Thousands of Hawaii residents are being threatened with the cancellation of their individual health insurance policies because they don't meet requirements under the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature legislation.
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Kaiser Permanente Hawaii says about 5 percent of its members could be impacted, or roughly 11,000 residents.
"As required by law, we informed these members that their non-compliant plans will be withdrawn, but that we are ready to continue their coverage in new, ACA-compliant products in 2014," read a statement from the insurance carrier.
As many as 12,400 individual policy holders covered by the Hawaii Medical Service Association, or HMSA, are also threatened with cancellations.
"We are working with the state government to make the best decision for our members and the state of Hawaii," Elisa Yadao, HMSA's senior vice president for consumer experience, said in a statement to KITV4.
The threat of policy cancellations in Hawaii comes as President Obama struggles with the political fallout from his pledge that anyone who liked their health insurance policy would be able to keep it under ACA.
On Thursday, the president held a news conference where he admitted his administration "fumbled" the roll out of the health care law. The president went on to say that his administration will no longer require insurance companies to scrap plans that fall short of the new health care law's minimum coverage mandates.
Speaking at the White House, Mr. Obama said he hears Americans who are upset about losing their health insurance "loud and clear" and wants to be able to tell them that "the Affordable Care Act is not going to be the reason why insurers have to cancel" their plans.
Hawaii lawmakers are carefully monitoring developments in Washington, D.C., since it's unclear whether the president can prevent policy cancellations through executive order.
"I think that the president's appeal is right-minded to make sure nobody loses their insurance, but we can't just go on a leap of faith. I think it is probably needed in statute," said state Sen. Josh Green, Health Committee chairman.
"State insurance regulators are looking at the impact of that directive and what needs to happen now to execute on that, and whether it's even possible," added state Rep. Della Au Belatti, who chairs the Health Committee in the House.
Kaiser Permanente Hawaii says some individual health plans that meet the new requirements of the Affordable Care Act may cost less, while others may cost more. The insurer says plans purchased before March 23, 2010, are "grandfathered" under the law, but those purchased at a later date are not.
Green said he's concerned about the impact premium increases may have on middle class families.
"I just think people have to have total awareness about what the cost changes can be because they have to plan their lives," said the state senator.
Green and Au Belatti said they would likely hold a legislative briefing to examine the impacts of the Affordable Care Act in Hawaii. In the meantime, Au Belatti is urging consumers to keep up with fast-changing developments by staying "engaged."
Meanwhile, the number of Hawaii residents who have signed up for the Affordable Care Act through the Hawaii Health Connector website remains unknown.
On Wednesday, the Health Connector issued a news release saying its portal HawaiiHealthConnector.com had received 77,091 unique visitors as of Nov. 2, and 3,237 accounts had been created. When pressed by KITV4 for the actual number of enrollees, a Health Connector spokesperson had no comment and instead referred KITV4 to its news release.
"It's no surprise to people that this has been a bumpy start, and we're all frustrated," said Green. "But, let's be totally transparent. We're not judging people; we just want to make sure this works."
Nationally, about 106,000 people have completed the enrollment process as part of the ACA, which is barely one-fifth of what federal officials had projected. Persistent problems with the website HealthCare.gov has hampered potential sign-ups.