Hawaii's health insurance marketplace under President Barack Obama's federal health care overhaul is now offering plans for sale, more than two weeks after the start of open enrollment.
Hawaii Health Connector Executive Director Coral Andrews said at a news conference Tuesday that consumers can now review and buy plans offered on the exchange's website, HawaiiHealthConnector.com.
The re-launching of the website comes after more than two weeks of trying to fix technical problems that rendered the site unable to display plans and prices.
The delay caused some people without insurance to go directly to insurance companies, which offered the same plans without the ability to check for tax subsidies and other rebates. The website was developed by CGI Group Inc., a Canadian company that specializes in end-to-end information technology and business process services.
"To our community, I want to acknowledge and thank you for your patience in waiting for us to be able to get these prices and plans to you," an apologetic Andrews told reporters.
Although consumers can now compare and contrast health plans online, the website was not without its glitches Tuesday. Consumers who tried to log on before 1 p.m. were greeted with a blank screen and a one line message that read: "This website is temporarily unavailable, please try again later."
About a half hour later, the website was back up, but technical difficulties are providing critics of the Affordable Care Act fresh ammunition to rail against the unpopular legislation. According to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey, 52 percent of likely U.S. voters view the law at least somewhat unfavorably.
"We spent $53 million on this website, the same contractor that has had problems across the country," said Sen. Sam Slom, the only Republican in the Hawaii state Senate. "They had really three years to do this, (and) they haven't done it well."
The Hawaii Health Connector's contract with CGI was announced Jan. 29. It covers website construction and maintenance, as well as associated financial and plan management systems for the exchange. However, the company has a poor track record with similar contracts.
Consumers on the mainland attempting to shop for health insurance on the federal website Healthcare.gov experienced technical glitches similar to the Hawaii portal. The website was also developed by CGI. Meanwhile, the Washington Examiner reports CGI Federal's contract with an Ontario government health agency was terminated in September of last year after the company missed deadlines and failed to deliver the province's flagship online medical registry. CGI Federal is a subsidiary of CGI Group.
Andrews was unable to say Tuesday how many Hawaii residents have actually applied for health insurance under the exchange, but said Connector employees will manually process applications that were turned in before plans went live on the website. Its estimated as many as 100,000 Hawaii residents don't have health insurance.
"I would ask you to keep in touch with us. We look forward to providing some metrics to you probably sometime in the coming weeks," Andrews said in response to a reporter's question about the number of applications.
Hawaii Health Connector has the ambitious goal of signing up 300,000 Hawaii residents under the exchange, and hopes to become self-sufficient by 2015. To meet its sustainability goal, the nonprofit corporation is assessing a 2 percent fee on all health plans sold under the exchange.
"The model is flawed," said Slom. "Everything about this project is flawed."