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The Honolulu Star-Advertiser On Politics column

By Richard Borreca, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 29--Abercrombie to Ige: "Get a mirror." That was the take-away sound bite from last week's Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii forum featuring Gov. Neil Abercrombie and his Democratic primary opponent, state Sen. David Ige.

The two were hashing out what to do about the state's disastrous Health Connector law, which via the Affordable Care Act has already sucked up $204 million in subsidies and registered less than 10,000 health insurance clients.

"We should have requested an exemption from the Affordable Care Act because we have the best health insurance care in the country," said Ige, who is the Senate Ways and Means chairman.

He noted that many Hawaii small businesses are facing increased health care costs because of the state mandated Health Connector, which is supposed to provide an Internet-based one-stop shop for health insurance.

At the forum, Abercrombie tried to deny any responsibility for the failed Connector, saying it was all the Legislature's doing

"The Health Connector is completely a creature of the Legislature. The Health Connector didn't suddenly appear, it wasn't spontaneous combustion. It is a nonprofit corporation completely created by the Legislature," said Abercrombie, getting ready to deliver the money line.

"If the Legislature is upset with how the Connector is working, I suggest they get a mirror," Abercrombie said, barely able to contain his laughter.

The audience, heavily seeded with Abercrombie staffers and supporters, applauded.

If there are mirrors to be passed out, someone should make sure Washington Place has an ample supply, because the Hawaii Health Connector exists because Abercrombie willed it into being, not the Legislature.

Hawaii was the first state to go with a state-based health insurance exchange. It was Abercrombie's decision to decide whether Hawaii would go with its own plan or let the federal government handle it.

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Not only was Hawaii the first state to jump on the Obamacare bandwagon, the Abercrombie administration worked with the 2011 Legislature to draft the Hawaii Health Connector law.

On March 21 of that year, state Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito told the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, "the department supports this bill."

"Given the size of the task, we believe implementation should start soon and first is establishing the statutory framework for the exchange."

Earlier in 2011, Patricia McManaman, state Human Services director, had appeared before Ige's committee to say her department supported the bill and, like Ito, urged specific amendments to it.

The committee report for the final bill explained that a task force, set up by the insurance commissioner within the Abercrombie administration, would iron out the details and get the Connector up and running.

"This measure empowers the State Health Insurance Exchange Task Force initially convened by the Insurance Commissioner to thoroughly investigate the issues and make recommendations for the management of the Hawaii Health Connector," read the 2011 committee report to the bill, which passed the Legislature and was signed by Abercrombie.

Abercrombie now says the state will ask for a waiver to allow existing state departments to do much of the Health Connector work and adds that he never thought the quasi-governmental nonprofit was a good idea.

The initial process, however, was a legislative compromise worked out between the health insurance industry, the state administration and the Legislature.

Abercrombie is correct: The flawed Health Connector did not arise from spontaneous combustion -- but he should check his own hand for the matches.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at


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