Jeffrey Kissell will take over as head of the state’s beleaguered health insurance marketplace, known as the Hawaii Health Connector, according to an announcement from the board Friday.

Kissell, who spent his career working for energy companies, most recently as CEO of Hawaii GAS, replaces interim Executive Director Tom Matsuda. Matsuda took the reins after the initial executive director, Coral Andrews, resigned in December amid criticism of her management.

“I believe that everyone deserves to have health insurance coverage, and the Hawai‘i Health Connector is a highly viable resource for reasonably priced, high quality health care,” Kissel said in a release. “I’m at a place in my career where I can really give back to the community and do something that will make a difference in people’s lives. I am looking forward to hitting the ground running to prepare for open enrollment, which starts November 15.”

Hawaii Health Connector Meeting

Lawmakers discuss the Hawaii Health Connector at a meeting in December.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Kissell has his work cut out for him.

The Associated Press reported in August that the Connector has been beset by problems from the beginning when just 10,800 people enrolled and the nonprofit earned just $40,350 in its first six months, far below the $320,000 expected. The Connector has been awarded over $200 million in federal grants but still needed a $1.5 million state appropriation, the AP reported.

The federal Government Accounting Office told state Sen. Sam Slom in April that it will investigate the Hawaii Health Connector’s use of federal grant money.

To top it off, the state’s largest insurer, the Hawaii Medical Services Association, has pulled out of the small-business side of the exchange, the AP reports.

“The Board believes that Jeff is the ideal person to lead the Connector forward for the long-term. His prior experience leading prominent and successful companies, as well as his drive and enthusiasm, will serve the Connector well to secure affordable health coverage for the residents of Hawaii,” Board Chair Clifford Alakai said in the release. “We are also extremely grateful to Tom Matsuda for his service shepherding the Connector through a very difficult time. He helped educate state policymakers and the community on the value of the Connector.”

The Connector was set up as a private nonprofit to give it more freedom and autonomy, but the state has been working to increase its oversight.

Last session lawmakers passed a bill, which included the $1.5 million appropriation, that created a legislative oversight committee that is required to annually review a report and sustainability plan from the Connector’s board. The new law also requires the Connector to submit the results of its annual audits.

“The State and Hawaii Health Connector continue to work collaboratively toward the goal of providing universal health care fore the people of Hawaii,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said in a letter to lawmakers in July letting them know he would let the bill become law without his signature.

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