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Health insurance exchange aiming to have plan rates by Oct. 15

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    The online marketplace known as the Hawaii Health Connector is having software problems that will prevent consumers from comparing the various plans.

The head of the Hawaii Health Connector has pledged to get medical plans and prices on the state’s health insurance exchange by Oct. 15.

Executive Director Coral Andrews told lawmakers at a briefing Wednesday at the State Capitol that in the meantime the Connector will link to policies already up on participating insurance carrier sites.

Andrews issued her first apology before the legislative briefing Wednesday morning, a week after software problems prevented consumers from purchasing policies at the start of open enrollment on Oct. 1.

“The Hawaii Health Connector apologizes for any inconvenience the delay in plan presentation has caused consumers who want to shop for health insurance in the online marketplace,” she said. “We won’t stop working until the doors to are wide open, allowing every resident of Hawaii to have access to affordable coverage.”

A computer glitch prevented the Connector from properly loading health plan rates online, but the federally-funded nonprofit organization has completed testing of individual plans and is working to finish testing plans for small businesses, she said. She added that the exchange is required by law to validate plans with insurers before making the information publicly available.

Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente Hawaii posted last week health plan rates at the start of open enrollment for the online marketplace created by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

“There’s a lot of anxiety about Oct. 1. People feel a sense that they need to be doing something,” Andrews told lawmakers. “While Oct. 1 was the kick-off date, it’s important they do understand that there is time. We do ask that everyone be aware that this is a very large roll out. There will be bumps and we’re working to make sure we manage those bumps. Our desire is to be able to enable Hawaii’s residents to obtain health insurance so they may see their health care providers in January.”

Consumers have until Dec. 15 to sign up for health insurance that takes effect on Jan. 1.

“It’s a very challenging task, this has been quite a journey. While I realize Oct. 1 didn’t look exactly like everyone wanted it to, it’s imperative we get everyone’s support. From a business perspective, we have an obligation to ensure what we do going forward is not going to cause more confusion to customers.”

States and the federal government have spent millions of dollars urging people to enroll on the new marketplaces nationwide, where small companies and individuals who buy their own insurance or have no coverage can compare premiums for different plans, calculate subsidies and purchase policies.

The federal law, designed to make coverage affordable to all, requires most Americans have health insurance next year or face tax penalties of $95 or 1 percent of income, whichever is greater. The penalties rise each year thereafter.

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