Can Insurance Providers Help Improve Flight Service?

By Jack Kiyonaga, Editor 

Photo courtesy of AlohaCare.

AlohaCare health insurance services 2,445 Molokai residents. Now, the insurance provider is looking at fixing a critical step in serving Molokai residents: getting to the appointment. 

Lacking most types of medical specialists on-island, Molokai residents often must fly off-island for critical appointments. This past spring was a well-documented nightmare as Molokai patients routinely missed appointments due to unexpected flight delays and cancellations. These concerns led to AlohaCare sitting down with Mokulele Airlines and government legislators to talk about solutions. 

Meetings with State Sen. Lynn Decoite and Rep. Mahina Poepoe resulted in a commitment to collaborate across companies, explained AlohaCare VP of External Affairs Paula Arcena. 

“The commitment was to work together, to try and coordinate better, to make sure we are communicating,” said Arcena. However, she also admitted that “we don’t have any leverage.”

On Thursday, Sept. 7, AlohaCare representatives met with Molokai members at the Molokai Community Health Center (MCHC) to hear concerns as well as celebrate the opening of their office at MCHC.  

“We want to be transparent with the members about what was being done to create a long-term sustainable fix,” said the CEO of AlohaCare Francoise Culley-Trotman. The goal is to “create easier ways for people to access their benefits.”

Health care providers like AlohaCare and ‘Ohana Health Plan work with Mokulele and another company called IntelliRide to schedule flights for medical appointments. Flights needed by insurance providers are then scheduled by IntelliRide, who pass along the bookings to patients. This multi-step process has led to complications. 

“The big issue that we had in the past is that when an insurance company booking took place, we didn’t have access to the contact information [for the patients]. Now we do,” said Keith Sisson, chief of staff for Mokulele. 

Sisson explained that this change in access to contact information has taken place in the last six weeks. 

“It’s a big change,” said Sisson. Now Mokulele can talk directly with patients to let them know when flights have been delayed or canceled. 

According to Sisson, since implementing this change in contact information, Mokulele has received far fewer complaints. Mokulele is still looking to improve its Molokai fleet. Sisson told the crowd gathered at the MCHC that Southern Airways Express, Mokulele’s parent company, has purchased an additional 100 Cessna Grand Caravans. It is unclear how many will be deployed to service Molokai. 

Sisson also explained that three Mokulele planes are currently down because they have expired landing gear. This type of landing gear is, unfortunately, only manufactured in Ukraine, according to Sisson.

Regardless, Sisson explained that he is “confident that the worst is behind us.” 

But are Molokai residents as confident as Sisson? 

Cole Mosher needed to fly to Oahu on Sept. 5 to attend a medical appointment. Not only was the flight three hours late, but Mosher was unaware that his flight was connecting on Maui before heading to Oahu due to a miscommunication. . 

“I was literally about to walk out and there is no refund,” said Mosher. “This is affecting people’s lives, time and money.” 

Venture Physical Therapy is a Maui-based company which provides in-home physical therapy for Molokai residents. Now, Venture Physical Therapy is suspending operations on Molokai explicitly because of delays with Mokulele. 

“We truly want to continue to serve the wonderful Molokai community and the patients we’ve grown to love,” said Trisha Smith, a representative for Venture Physical Therapy. “But the how has become nearly impossible with the unreliable airline situation.” 

Molokai residents continue to take flights a day prior to medical appointments, spending money on hotels rather than risk missing the appointment. 

While a challenging situation, Arcena believed that better communication will be the key to progress. 

“We’re trying to keep this communication hui together,” said Arcena. “We’re going to keep plugging away at it.”


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