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State health exchange aiming for Oct. 15 relaunch

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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.

Hawaii’s health insurance marketplace is hoping to turn around a stalled start by providing plans and pricing to consumers by Oct. 15 — but there are no guarantees, its executive director said today.

Coral Andrews, executive director of Hawaii Health Connector, told state lawmakers today that getting the marketplace running properly has been a fluid situation, with circumstances changing every day.

"We want to make sure that we’re doing it the right way," Andrews said after testifying for more than an hour before a panel of lawmakers representing three House and three Senate committees.

The insurance exchange — a key component of President Barack Obama’s federal health care overhaul — hasn’t been able to sell any insurance because of problems with the software at the heart of the marketplace. Consumers can’t see plans, even though a variety of options from two insurers have been approved to be sold by the state’s insurance division.

The problems have meant consumers can only submit basic information using a web form, with the promise they’ll be contacted in a few weeks. As a workaround, some people are going directly to insurance companies to find out about plans, even though buying plans from insurance companies directly means consumers won’t be able to get tax subsidies or other help they might qualify for.

Andrews said the exchange is required by statute to have its insurance providers validate how rates and plans are presented to consumers before they’re rolled out publicly. She said testing on individual plans is complete, while testing on small business plans is ongoing.

Andrews said she knows the site didn’t launch the way officials wanted it to on Oct. 1, the start of open enrollment. But Andrews says she hopes the site will be more functional in the next couple weeks.

"We’re looking at where we’ll be by the 15th of October. I’m not saying that is the date but we are working within that date," she said. "We don’t want to go longer than that date."

Andrews’ comments came at the start of a hearing to discuss implementation of the federal overhaul, a law Hawaii has embraced. Hawaii was the first state to announce its intention to run its own insurance exchange, and the Hawaii Health Connector was established in August 2011.

The state’s insurance commissioner and Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s Affordable Care Act implementation manager are also expected to speak today.

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