Head of Hawaii Health Connector called to testify on Capitol Hill
Plagued by problems with its website and low enrollment numbers, Hawaii Health Connector interim Executive Director Tom Matsuda has been summoned to Washington, D.C., by congressional Republicans.
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On Wednesday, Matsuda confirmed he'll be testifying before a subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee next Thursday. Although schedules are not yet posted, Matsuda is likely to appear before the Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Health Care and Entitlements, which is chaired by Republican Rep. James Lankford of Oklahoma. Matsuda and Health Connector spokesman Bobby Lambrix would not confirm to KITV4 which subcommittee had called on Matsuda to testify.
"What I expect is to provide the facts about what really happened in Hawaii the best I can," Matsuda said about his scheduled appearance on Capitol Hill.
Republicans are likely to question Matsuda about the 5,744 individuals who signed up for President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act through the Health Connector website since its launch Oct. 15, which came after a two-week delay. Before open enrollment began last year, supporters of Hawaii's online health care exchange were predicting as many as 100,000 individuals to take advantage of the new law by the March 31 deadline.
GOP members are also expected to focus on the more than $200 million the Health Connector has received in federal grants.
"Well, I mean all I can do is tell them what we did, right?
And people will just have to draw their own conclusions," said Matsuda.
The Health Connector has about $95 million remaining of a $128 million federal grant awarded last April, and Matsuda is awaiting clarification on how much of that money can be spent on the Health Connector's operation and maintenance.
"We don't have any exact figures (and) that's what we're trying to work on with our federal partners," he said. "The most important thing for us to do is to use those funds to improve the system that's being built."
Hawaii lawmakers meanwhile are contemplating how much cash may be needed to keep the Hawaii Health Connector afloat beyond 2014, when the online exchange is supposed to become self-sufficient. Preliminary figures suggest about $15 million per year; however, state auditor Jan Yamane may have a different number when lawmakers are briefed in a few weeks.
"I think what we're going to be looking forward to in the next coming weeks is a possible informational briefing to see what the preliminary data is from the auditors," said state Rep. Della Au Belatti, who chairs the Health Committee. "If we don't have the Health Connector and we go to the federal exchange, it really undermines our prepaid health care system, and for too many folks in this state, prepaid health care is their access to affordable health care."
However, state Sen. Sam Slom believes the last thing the state should do is prop-up the state's online health exchange. The Hawaii Republican has asked the U.S. Government Accounting Office to investigate how the Hawaii Health Connector has spent its federal funds.
"You know we talk about scams in Hawaii, particularly against older people, hey I'm sorry, but in my humble opinion this is a scam," Slom told KITV4. "Unfortunately, it's become more about money then about healthcare and health insurance."
On Wednesday, the White House announced anyone who has begun an application for health insurance on Healthcare.gov will not face an IRS penalty if they don't meet Monday's deadline to comply with mandatory coverage. Instead, those who have begun the application process will be given until the middle of next month.
Matsuda said the Hawaii Health Connector would follow a similar path as long as those seeking coverage fill out an application by March 31.
"They can finish the enrollment process after the 31st, but we're just encouraging people to submit an application," he said.
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