- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii state Sen. David Ige said a crush of testimony on a bill to shore up the state’s troubled health exchange means lawmakers need more time to make a decision.

The bill (HB 2529) seeks to raise up to $15 million per year for the Hawaii Health Connector. The money could come from the state’s general fund or a fee on insurance companies that are not participating in the exchange.

The exchange built under President Barack Obama’s federal health-care overhaul is required to sustain itself financially by the year 2015. But right now, it does not have the ability to fully fund the program throughout 2015.

To solve the problem, the bill suggests charging a fee of no more than 0.345 percent of premiums on medical and dental insurance plans sold in the state. It also gives the Legislature permission to dole out money to the exchange.

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii opposed the sustainability fee, saying it would harm businesses. They said the Connector should reduce its expenses and not create an additional burden for business.

One way the bill sought to reduce costs was to end some payments to insurance brokers that enroll people in insurance plans through the exchange. But the Hawaii Independent Insurance Agents Association fought that proposal.

Meanwhile, the AARP of Hawaii supported parts of the bill that would establish a legislative oversight committee and require the Connector to submit a sustainable annual budget plan. Hawaii residents should not be responsible for paying those expenses until they have that accounting, the group said.

Lawmakers in the Senate Ways and Means committee on Friday postponed making a decision until 10 a.m. Monday.

“I thought members would benefit from having a dialogue on this measure,” said Ige, D-Honolulu, who chairs the committee.

After the committee meeting, Republican Sen. Sam Slom announced that he asked the federal Government Accountability Office to investigate what Hawaii has done with more than $200 million in federal grants for the Connector. Slom had threatened to call for an investigation last week if he didn’t get documents that explain how the federal grants were used.

Tom Matsuda, the Connector’s interim director, has said he plans to provide that information, but the main priority right now is to sign people up for health insurance before the March 31 deadline.

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