Affordable Care checkup

POIPU — Kauai was treated to the first public demonstration of the Hawaii Health Connector, the state’s online health insurance marketplace, Thursday.

“We are taking a little risk here,” said Rick Budar, HHC’s chief marketing officer. “But because we have the demo ready — we’ve been testing it daily — I figure Kauai first. This has not been shown anywhere.”

The demonstration was part of an Affordable Care Act Overview and Update, hosted by the Kauai Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by the Hawaii Medical Assurance Association.

Reg Baker, executive vice president of HMAA, encouraged small business owners not to get rattled by all the misinformation.

“You don’t have to change anything you’re doing right now,” he said. “Going to the exchange is a convenience you can use to do some comparison shopping, but it’s not a requirement.”

Budar warned the nearly 100 people gathered at the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa that what they were about to see was not the final product, but rather a work in progress.

HHC is Hawaii’s online health insurance exchange, established as a nonprofit organization in 2011 by the state Legislature. In June 2012, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to declare its intent to have a state-based health insurance exchange consistent with the federal Affordable Care Act.

HHC was created to help individuals and small businesses take advantage of the health insurance choices available to them, according to its website.

Budar described HHC as an outreach and education effort, supported by a website.

“That is how we see it. That is what we focus on daily,” he said. “To make sure that we are out in the public, educating everyone. And that is the whole point of this effort of getting the uninsured, insured.”

Darren He of the Exeter Group, one of the technology partners working with HHC, walked the audience step-by-step through the HHC application process for both small business employers and employees.

“As (Budar) said, there’s a lot going on, a lot still being built up,” he said. “We’re bringing in some of the finishing touches. We’re adding in seats onto the jumbo jet.”

Budar said one of the easiest ways to get a point across is to tell a story. So for the premiere demonstration, the story belonged to Lisa Wilson, a fictional small business owner coming onto the exchange for the first time to look for insurance options for her employees at Kiawe BBQ Shop.

“The application you are going to be seeing is live,” He said. “So I will be going in and filling in the form and selecting plans … I will pray that it doesn’t crash.”

He said many of the program’s visuals are still being tweaked.

“Not everything is going to look exactly like this when you go onto the exchange in a few months,” He said. “It will look different, but the functionality will hopefully be the same, if not better.”

Before actually joining the exchange, Wilson was given the option of using HHC’s anonymous Small Business Tax Credit Calculator, to see what she may be eligible for.

Once launched, the program will allow small business employers to compare insurance plans, determine eligibility for tax credits, determine affordability of plans for employees and purchase health insurance plans and much more, according to the website.

“We’re thinking of it as a sort of a small business owner friendly way to see information and help them manage their employee insurance,” He said.

He added that the exchange offers a number of features to guide employers and employees through what may otherwise be confusing, including on-screen question tips.

“At this point we will be doing more demos, now that I know it actually works,” Budar said after the demo.

HHC’s open enrollment period is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, with a call center expected to be up and running Sept. 15.

While HHC is open to all medical insurers, according to Budar, only two  — Hawaii Medical Service Association and Kaiser Permanente Hawaii — have signed up.

“We are happy to have two of our insurers and we look forward to having all of our insurers on the Connector,” Budar said. “And I’m sure after this demo we may have helped that effort.”

Fielding a question from the audience about why certain insurers decided not to join the exchange, Paul Kaiser, chief operating officer of the Hawaii Western Management Group said Hawaii Medical Assurance Association “wanted to see it work first,” before making a commitment.

“It is very complicated. There are a ton of moving pieces,” he said. “We didn’t want to make things more complex than what they already are today.”

Lance Kaneshiro, executive vice president and chief operating officer of University Health Alliance, said his company’s first priority is protecting its current membership, and that there were a lot of unanswered questions.

“After deliberating for a real long time, we decided that it would be best to take a wait-and-see approach,” he said. “We want to make sure that our current membership isn’t adversely effected by any of the unanswered questions that are out there.”

Kaneshiro also said there are benefits to not using HHC, including that the companies know their patients’ medical history and are able to provide service on a more personal level.

Scott McFarland, co-owner of the Kauai Athletic Club, said his current insurance carrier — which he chose not to name — is not on the exchange.

“But that’s OK because I actually want to compare the price that I’m getting with my current carrier, versus the price I’m going to get with the Connector,” he said. “So I’m actually very excited that we’re going to have this tool available to us here in Hawaii, to begin to get better transparency.”

As a small business owner and a Chamber member, McFarland said he looks forward to going through the exchange process himself, as well as encouraging others to do the same.

“I think that we’re going to very quickly see an equilibrium in price,” he said.

The Affordable Care Act is scheduled to go into full effect Jan. 1, at which time small businesses will be able to begin buying insurance coverage via the Connector.

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