- Associated Press - Friday, October 3, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The former CEO of Hawaii Gas has been selected to take over as the new director of Hawaii’s federally mandated insurance marketplace.

The Hawaii Health Connector board voted Friday to hire Jeffrey Kissel.

The 64-year-old is taking over leadership of the Hawaii Health Connector from Tom Matsuda. Matsuda has been serving on an interim basis since late last year when then-director Coral Andrews resigned after the organization suffered delays in getting the exchange running.

The exchange allows customers to buy health services in a more cost-effective and transparent way, Kissel said.

“I just believe that the Connector is a vital piece of infrastructure, and it’s going to benefit a lot of people in the future,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

The Hawaii Health Connector has been plagued with problems from its inception. Its open-enrollment period was delayed because of technical problems. Then it enrolled just 10,800 people and earned just $40,350 in its first six months, far below the $320,000 it expected. It was awarded more than $200 million in federal grants, but it couldn’t get by without a $1.5 million appropriation from the Legislature.

In August, the Hawaii Medical Services Association, the state’s largest health insurer, pulled out of the small-business side of the health exchange. This left the Hawaii Health Connector with only one insurance company for employers to select.

Kissel said the first thing he will do in his new job is listen to stakeholders, customers and the people running the organization to put a strategic plan in place.

Some gubernatorial candidates have been saying the state should get out of running the health exchange altogether and should consider letting the federal government take over. But Kissel said federal programs charge higher premiums for health insurance than Hawaii’s exchange.

“The costs are likely to rise,” Kissel said. “That means more money coming out of Hawaii households.”

Kissel came to Hawaii as a student in 1968 and studied at the University of Hawaii, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He began working at Pacific Resources, now known as The Gas Co., in Honolulu in 1974. Since then, he has spent half his career in Hawaii and the other half in locations from Singapore to London, he said.

Working in the heavily regulated gas industry has given him experience working with the Legislature, Kissel said.

He said he has to learn more about the Connector’s financial situation before he comes up with a plan for the enterprise, but he said “you’ve got to manage costs and deliver value.”

Kissel said he has experience dealing with complex technology problems, and that he has implemented global information technology systems at a multinational corporation.

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