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State health exchange opens without plan specs

By Oskar Garcia

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:36 a.m. HST, Oct 1, 2013

Hawaii is starting open enrollment under President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul without consumers being able to compare actual plans and prices.

Chief Marketing Officer Rick Budar of the Hawaii Health Connector told The Associated Press today that consumers will be able to apply for coverage, but insurers are still testing and reviewing rates in part to make sure they're shown correctly within the system.

Budar says he expects actual plans and prices to be up within the month, once they're approved by insurers.

"We are going to focus on making October the month of learning," Budar said.

Hawaii's insurance division said last month it approved 95 base plans under four tiers for the marketplace.

Laura Lott, a spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente in Hawaii, said the exchange is waiting for approval from insurers because the software on the exchange's system isn't loading correctly.

"They are working on a fix on their side," Lott said. "They do have all our plans and all our rates."

When asked why the delay is happening, Budar cited the insurers' approval and public feedback that consumers don't want to sign up for plans right away.

Budar says he doesn't expect many people to purchase plans until December, with coverage starting Jan. 1, the deadline nationally for most Americans to have health insurance or pay penalties.

"I don't believe anybody wants to give their money early," Budar said.

Budar said the website has the same functionality as what consumers get by calling a call center or seeing an in-person assister to help them buy insurance.

Hawaii was the first state to declare its intent to run a state health exchange after the law passed, and the Hawaii Health Connector was established in 2011 as a private entity that answers to the Hawaii Legislature.

The exchange touted the ability to compare options on its website as recently as Saturday, and in commercials leading up to today's start of open enrollment.

"Visit and you'll find we have plans for you, too," a video linked on the exchange's homepage said this morning.

At 8 a.m. the site began allowing users to fill out personal information, with the promise that connector officials would contact them "in the coming weeks."

Fine print at the bottom of the website said the official online health insurance marketplace portal is currently under construction, and that the connector's website is informational only.

Nearly 8 percent of Hawaii residents don't have health insurance, according to 2010 U.S. Census data. Hawaii's exchange, citing data from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, says nearly 90,000 uninsured Hawaii residents will be eligible for coverage under the new marketplace.

Hawaii insurance officials have previously said premiums for state residents would be competitively priced compared with other U.S. states -- even cheaper in many cases, according to comparisons with two studies.

Hawaii's insurance division says the average monthly rate for a 40-year-old Honolulu resident under the exchange is $217. Coverage won't be affected by pre-existing conditions, but pricing will fluctuate based on age, family size and tobacco use.

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