Hawaii remains ahead of the pack for Obamacare

POIPU — For the second time in six months, the Kauai Chamber of Commerce hosted an update and review of the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare — for Kauai residents and small business owners. The overall message from Thursday’s panelists was that the state of Hawaii is ahead of the rest of the country.

“For most other states, the ACA is forcing insurance and other standards to come up to a minimum standard,” said Thomas Matsuda, ACA implementation manager for Gov. Neil Abercrombie. “In Hawaii, we are above that standard and we are trying to prevent it from coming down.”

Reg Baker, executive vice president of Hawaii Medical Assurance Association, said there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the ACA.

“On the Mainland it is a serious change,” he said. “But here we’ve got most of it already implemented.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law in March of 2010, with the goals of reducing the number of uninsured people, reducing cost and promoting preventive care. The law, which consists of more than 2,000 pages, is being phased in over multiple years.

Baker said that because the ACA is a “constantly changing landscape,” there is a need for continued community updates, like the one Thursday in Poipu.

Ann Yamamoto, owner of Deja Vu Surf Hawaii, said she also attended the February Chamber event. At that time there was a lot of “uncertainty,” she said.

“Today kind of cleared more of it up,” she said. “It’s such a new thing.”

Deborah Crippen, director of human resources at Lawai Beach Resort, said she came to see what new information had been collected by the experts over the last six months.

“As a member of the Society for Human Resource Management, we just want to make sure that we’re always on the pulse of what is going on, so we can make the best decisions for our associates, our employers and our employees,” she said.

Given the unique situation in Hawaii, where a lot of the work has already been done, Crippen said it is good to set aside some of the rhetoric about Obamacare, and see how progressive Hawaii really is.

“I think a lot of times we don’t think about Hawaii as progressive, right?” she said. “But it really is.”

Matsuda said the next  year is a “big year,” and that Jan. 1, 2014 is a “major deadline.”

“But there are actually many other things under the act that are going to roll out the next two to three years,” he said. “So you’re going to continue to hear about this for some time to come.”

Antonio Saguibo Jr., vice president of account management and sales at HMSA/Blue Cross Blue Shield of Hawaii, said 2014 will be a “milestone” in the ACA, but that the Prepaid Health Care Act has advanced Hawaii to a place “largely in front of the wave,” in terms of compliance.

“The key is to know that if you are meeting the requirements of the Hawaii Prepaid Health Care Act, you’re likely already in compliance with the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

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