Governor Neil Abercrombie today announced that the Hawai'i state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs has received a $14.4 million federal grant for the development of an online insurance exchange program, which will facilitate access to affordable health insurance for state residents.
"The cost of health care is one of the biggest challenges faced by many families, and this grant allows the opportunity to help people obtain health insurance that are within their means," said Governor Abercrombie.
The insurance exchange program will be created by the Hawai'i Health Connector, a non-profit organization established by the 2011 state Legislature and managed by a board of directors appointed by the governor. The exchange will help small businesses and uninsured individuals and families explore their health insurance options conveniently via an online portal. Those meeting federal financial criteria may even find that they qualify for tax credits or Medicaid assistance.
"This is just one step in the transformation of our health care system in Hawai'i," said state Sen. Roz Baker, who sponsored the legislation that created Hawai'i Health Connector. "But it's an important step in that it sets the stage for comprehensive care for the most vulnerable in our society."
Additional federal funds may be available in 2012, said Beth Giesting, the state's health care transformation coordinator. "We expect to make major improvements to our current health care system between now and 2014," Giesting said. "We need to ensure that there is high-quality, affordable healthcare for all Hawai'i residents. Fortunately, the federal government is partnering with the state on this transformation, and we are working with private agencies on health care initiatives. We anticipate the potential for $100 million in federal funds over the next few years to help providers increase quality and reduce cost escalation."
Other recently federally funded medical projects in Hawai'i include:
$12 million for the Hawai'i Health Information Exchange to develop the rules and architecture for health information exchange and to support physician-led efforts to implement electronic health record systems;
$16 million for the Beacon Project on Hawai'i Island to upgrade the network of care for patients and their providers;
$900,000 for the state Department of Health to support an immunization health registry;
$9.9 million to the Med-QUEST division of the state Department of Human Services to enhance chronic disease management via Medicaid, utilizing the University of Hawai'i Center on Disability Studies; and
$3 million to the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs to make health rate filings more accessible by the public.
Giesting added that there are also plans to secure federal grants for the state's Med-QUEST program that would support patient-centered care for Medicaid patients with multiple chronic diseases. Funds would also provide incentive payments for community health centers and hospitals that use electronic health record systems and be used to overhaul the Medicaid eligibility and financial management systems.