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More signups at Hawaii Health Connector, but website issues persist

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HONOLULU — The Hawaii Health Connector has signed up about 3,500 people for health insurance in the past month, an improvement from last year when just 275 people signed up for coverage in the first month of the troubled health exchange.

But customers are still reporting problems enrolling through the website.

Patty Kroh of Pahoa says she waited five days to get a phone call returned after being unable to enroll as a new customer on the website. Kroh, 58, complained on the Health Connector's Facebook page, and after sending messages through the social networking website a staff member called her back and said that they'd had the wrong phone number on file, she said.

"They seemed to really want to help this morning," Kroh said. "Hopefully they come through."

About 1,000 to 1,500 people started the enrollment process but didn't finish, said Executive Director Jeff Kissel. His staff members have called many of those customers to help them enroll, he said.

"There are lingering issues, and we knew that, and I never tried to kind hide that," Kissel said. "That's why we added people to the call center. We will have them worked out, but we didn't have them all worked out in time for this year."

Monday was the last day to sign up for health insurance coverage that begins Jan. 1. About 13,500 people have signed up for insurance through the Hawaii Health Connector since its creation in 2013.

"We're not perfect yet, but we had a lot of people succeed in browsing and selection," Kissel said.

People who had enrolled last year and were trying to update their selections were the most likely to have problems, because they may have had damaged data files from last year that had to be cleared manually, Kissel said.

That was the case with Jillian Marohnic, co-owner of Volcano Hideaways, a small company that does vacation rentals in Volcano, Hawaii. Marohnic wanted to browse through the options to see if she should change plans, but when she interacted with the website she kept getting error messages.

"This year I thought it was going to be easy because all we had to do was renew, but I logged into that account and of course it still didn't work, 14 months later," Marohnic said.

While trying to enroll herself and her husband, Marohnic was told three different amounts for her estimated tax credit, ranging from about $440 to more than $500, she said. At one point she was instructed by the website that she had to apply for Medicaid, but she clicked the "appeal" button on the Connector website and the appeal worked, she said.

Kissel said problems like that may be caused by a backup in the federal data system, but he said the exact tax credit will be verified at the end of the year when customers file taxes.

Marohnic and her husband, both in their mid- to late-50s, and earning a combined annual income of about $44,000, saw their collective monthly premium increase from an estimated $215 a month after subsidies to about $274 monthly. But Marohnic couldn't browse the plans in advance to select another option, she said.

Some customers got turned off when they couldn't compare plans without filling out forms and going through a Medicaid screening.

Kissel said he plans to fix the website to enable customers to browse and compare plans anonymously. For now, he added a link from the Connector website to the insurance commissioner's list of rates. Monthly premiums for some plans increased while others declined, according to the insurance commissioner's data.

Kissel encouraged those who gave up on enrolling because of glitches to stick with the process, because the potential tax credits could make it financially worthwhile.

"It's like an IRA," Kissel said. "It takes time to set it up, it takes time to manage it, but you're getting a lot of value for it."

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