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StarBulletin.com

Insurance deadlines extended


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POSTED: Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State and city workers have an extra week to choose a medical coverage plan as the state board that governs the health fund extended deadlines yesterday to ease confusion in the current open enrollment period.

The Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund board of trustees set a Dec. 7 deadline for government employees to “;review their choices, get more information”; and file enrollment forms with personnel offices. The trust fund's board also voted to delay the effective date of change one month to Feb. 1 for the benefit of the agency's beleaguered staff, which is dealing with change requests from more than 20 percent of 56,000 public workers.

The board authorized hiring five temporary employees to help handle documents, and the medical plan providers will provide some assistance in processing forms.

“;Our main concern is that nobody be left without insurance,”; said board member Stanley Shiraki. “;No carrier better say 'no coverage' because the paperwork is not done in time.”;

Member Marie Laderta said, “;My major concern is whether participants will have the information they need to make the choice.”;

At the center of the confusion is a third option available this year to workers who, in the past, had only to choose between the Hawaii Medical Service Association preferred provider plan and the Kaiser health maintenance organization. The trustees voted in August to offer a new preferred provider option at a lower cost to address lower worker incomes caused by budget cuts.

HMSA chose to administer the lower-cost 80-20 plan, Williams said, and the existing 90-10 plan was assigned to Health Management Associates.

Only a month before the deadline, the differences were explained in an Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund newsletter and reference guide to government workers.

It set off a scramble among employees who found out that in order to stay covered by HMSA, they need to file a change in enrollment form.

The board criticized HMSA for failing to correct “;erroneous and misleading information”; about the choices that have circulated, starting with an HMSA executive's e-mail. The board's news release yesterday said the board is pursuing “;corrective measures.”;

HMSA also launched an aggressive advertising campaign urging enrollment changes by members.

“;The EUTF has neither the resources nor the expertise to conduct a media campaign,”; the board said in the press release read by Williams.

“;There's a lot of confusion over how our decisions were made in August,”; said board member John Radcliffe. “;We need to bend over backwards to be sure some poor member who made a mistake, didn't do something right, (doesn't get) left out in the cold.”;