HONOLULU (AP) — The chief executive of Hawaii's largest health insurance company is calling on Hawaii to shut down its beleaguered health insurance exchange, which was set up as part of President Barack Obama's signature health care law.
Michael Gold, president and CEO of Hawaii Medical Services Association, says the state shouldn't keep spending money on the Hawaii Health Connector, a system that he says is financially unsustainable and does not work.
"I think there's an alternative that Hawaii needs to pursue immediately," Gold said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Hawaii should ask the federal government for an exception to the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires states to set up and run their own insurance exchanges, Gold said. He thinks businesses should buy approved plans directly from insurance companies, as they have done in the past. Individuals would do the same, or the federal government could take over that part of the exchange, he said.
Lawmakers on Friday were outraged at Gold's assertion that the state hasn't already pursued flexibility from federal requirements. Rep. Angus McKelvey of West Maui said they sought waivers from the federal government and were told they had to wait until 2017.
"We tried. We aggressively pursued that," McKelvey said. "The federal government says there's only one route to go."
The state already is pursuing ways to streamline the exchange by removing it as the middle-man between employers and insurers, and seeking waivers from the federal government, said Beth Giesting, health care transformation coordinator for Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
"It is a simplified role for the Connector, rather than no role for the Connector," Giesting said.
The Legislature also passed a bill setting up a task force to pursue the waiver.
The rollout of Hawaii's health exchange was delayed and plagued with technical problems. The Connector was awarded more than $200 million in federal funds. It has used about $100 million. It signed up 9,217 individuals, plus 628 employees and dependents. To date, the Connector has raised only $40,350 in user fees, according to Nathan Hokama, the exchange's spokesman.