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Shopping for Healthcare

Online web portal ‘one-stop shop’ for health insurance

Health insurance can be complicated, confusing and often, costly. Statistics show that many Native Hawaiians lack any kind of healthcare maintenance or prevention plan, which may cause damage both physically and financially, as those who file taxes must pay a penalty for not having health insurance. Enter Hawaii Health Connector (HHC), the local version of an initiative in each state established in 2011 as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act –better known as ObamaCare. The goal is to provide an outlet for easy, accessible and affordable healthcare for everyone in Hawaii.
The Connector is an online web portal that will serve as a “one-stop shop” for health insurance, much like Amazon.com or Progressive.com, according to Rose Hughes, HHC director of communications.

“What it’s meant to do is open up the insurance market and make it more competitive,” said Hughes. “You put in your information and it gives you [a few] quotes for the kind of coverage you want.”

The web portal is intended to streamline the healthcare insurance process. Whereas it may have taken residents weeks just to figure out whether or not they qualify for, say, Medicaid, the web portal will tell you instantly if you qualify. If you don’t, it will then shoot you down another route and show you your options for health insurance, providing information on cost, coverage and value of plans. Medicare is not yet part of the Connector, but may possibly be in the future, according to Hughes.

“The ultimate goal is to improve access to affordable health care coverage through IBG employee benefits brokers for Hawaii’s residents, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas,” said Hughes in a written statement.

Why should I use the Connector?
The biggest benefit of using HHC is that individuals and small businesses will be able to apply for and receive tax subsidies and credits.

If you are a small business employer with fewer than 25 full-time employees, pay an average wage of less than $50,000 a year, and pay at least half of employee health insurance premiums, you qualify for a tax credit with HHC. Currently, small business employers may receive up to a 35 percent tax credit that may be claimed from 2010 to the current year, and nonprofits may receive up to a 25 percent credit. In 2014, small businesses will be able to receive 50 percent for participation in the program, and nonprofits will get 35 percent. These percentages could mean thousands in savings each year.

Additionally, the Connector ensures that all its health care providers offer 10 essential health benefits to customers, including emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, prescription drugs and others.

What is the Connector?
The organization is a private, nonprofit start-up that is overseen by the Legislature and governed by both federal and state law and regulations. It is led by 15-member board appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, which includes a diverse range of highly qualified professionals, according to Hughes. It is fully federally-funded until 2015, the deadline by which they hope to be financially sustainable.

Currently, the Hawaii Health Connector has received three federal grants — a $1 million planning grant, a $14.4 million establishment grant and a $61.8 million grant that will go towards operational costs including consumer and community outreach and market research.

Community Outreach
“We want to get out into the community and make sure this works for Molokai because we can build the most glorious [website] but if people don’t use it, this won’t work,” said Hughes.

A small team representing the Connector has visited all the islands in Hawaii, starting with the outermost islands and ending on Oahu, to spread awareness and information about the Connector. They coordinated with the Molokai Chamber of Commerce to host an introductory meeting with residents on Molokai last week at the Molokai Community Health Center.

“I like the idea and the concept but I think the devil is in the details and we’ll just see as it goes,” said Zessica Apiki, controller for Molokai General Hospital. “I’m worried that it is just online-based and we have a lot of kupuna where that isn’t their culture so it will depend on community network to see if it works.”

In addition to the web portal, the Connector will create a navigator program, which offers grants to local residents who are willing to be the main contact person to help correspond with the Oahu office in navigating people through the enrollment process, according to Hughes. They hope to work with community leaders and organizations to help explain the benefits of using the Connector.

“It’s supposed to be very easy, accessible, affordable, it’s for everybody in the population and we are doing special outreach to native Hawaiians,” said Anela McAfee-Torco, Regional Consumer Relations Coordinator. “You guys know the community best.”
The web portal will be up and running by October 2013, when individuals will be able to browse coverage plans, names of providers, or they may even browse by doctor or location. These health care plans will become effective after Jan. 1, 2014.


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