Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said the Obamacare exchange is a black fiscal hole
Senate President Donna Mercado Kim speaks to reporters

HONOLULU — Hawaii state senators are criticizing CGI Group Inc., the company that developed Hawaii’s troubled Obamacare portal, for the construction and management of a tax-collection website.

The state Department of Taxation paid CGI Group more than $87 million over 12 years to modernize the state’s tax-collection system, but, Senate President Donna Mercado Kim said,the system often crashes and is plagued with other problems.

CGI Group maintains its work in Hawaii has produced positive results for the state, collecting $385 million in delinquent taxes and cutting refund times.

But in a recent legislative briefing, senators on the Ways & Means Committee were critical of the department’s plan to spend at least $32 million more to upgrade the tax department system, saying that number could reach $50 million.

In an exclusive interview with Hawaii Reporter, Kim, a Democrat running for Congress, in January heard the Hawaii Health Connector planned to contract with CGI Group in January for $53 million to build and maintain the Obamacare exchange website. She quickly warned Hawaii Health Connector executives about past problems with the Canadian-based technology company.

Coral Andrews, executive director of the Hawaii Health Connector, defended the choice and said CGI was selected through a competitive procurement process that complied with federal guidelines and oversight, as well as board oversight.

The website didn’t work for more than two weeks after it launched Oct. 1, because plans and pricing could not be displayed, and the system crashed and froze when users tried to register.

Coral Andrews, Hawaii Health Connector Executive Director

Since the site relaunched Oct. 15 there have been complaints, including its cumbersome technology, frequent crashes after the extensive forms are filled out and submitted and confusion over plan pricing.

The Hawaii Health Connector released figures Thursday that showed just 94 small businesses signed up  for health-care plans through the Obamacare exchange.

The Hawaii Health Connector did not disclose the number of people who obtained coverage through its services, althought a few thousand have created accounts and started the application process, according to a spokesperson.

Those familiar with the exchange’s system glitches said the enrollment figures are not accurate, in part because the information entered into the system does not always transfer correctly to the health insurance providers — it’s scrambled — so the insurance companies cannot process it; applications can be submitted several times because of technical glitches; and those just checking out the exchange with no plans to sign up can falsely inflate user figures.

Reg Baker, a certified public accountant  and executive vice president for Hawaii Medical Assurance Association, said it may take time for the public to get comfortable with the exchanges.

“Confidence in the exchanges has taken a hit,” said Baker, whose company is not providing plans through the Obamacare exchange. “Let’s hope that the exchanges will be able to turn this around and, if so, sign ups on the exchanges should improve. “