Debra Hammer, chief communications officer for the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, responded to the following questions about the Affordable Care Act. All responses are paraphrased:
How many New Mexico families and households have enrolled in health insurance through the exchange since it became available? Is that more, less or about the same as you expected at this point?
At the end of January, the New Mexico Health Insurance exchange had signed up 11,600 families. This is a little less than we expected, but there have been some obstacles, like the breakdown of the healthcare.gov website. There has also been a problem with people not knowing that the deadline to enroll is March 31.
How many businesses have enrolled to insure their employees through the exchange? Is that more, less or about the same as you expected at this point?
There are about 400 employers and employees signed up though the employer program. Small businesses with under 50 employees are not required to offer health insurance this year, but some are taking advantage. Again, a little less than expected. Businesses don’t face the same kind of deadlines that individuals do. A lot of businesses registered their non-qualifying health plans last fall, which has grandfathered them in for this year. That won’t be the case next year.
Are there problems with awareness of the exchange or that people may not know that they qualify for affordable health insurance under the exchange?
Mainly, people are surprised to know they have a deadline. NMHIX has noted a lot of interest in the exchange among New Mexico residents. People need to know they will face tax penalties this year if they don’t sign up for health care, and it will be $95 or a percentage payment based on their gross income. Persons whose household income is between 138 percent and 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines and are not insured should check out their options on NMHIX.
Are employers helping you promote the exchange to encourage their employees get enrolled?
NMHIX officials have noticed that employers who have signed up are encouraging their employees to sign up for better options, like the Silver, Gold and Platinum programs, rather than for the Bronze Plan or just catastrophic coverage.
Are young families and young adults failing to enroll in health insurance in New Mexico more or less than in other parts of the country?
About 18 percent of NMHIX enrollments from October to December were “young invincibles,” the population between 18 and 34 years of age. In January, the percentage rose to 20 percent. This is in line with nationwide enrollment among the young invincible group. NMHIX is encouraged by the increase in the percentage rate. In visits to college campuses, both main campuses and outlying, young adults are showing great interest in health insurance, and are wanting to know their options.
How are you promoting the exchange to young adults?
NMHIX representatives are visiting college and community college campuses, and NMHIX is aiming television advertising toward young adults with messages like, “A broken arm could cost you 10,000 beers.” In another ad, a young person in a neck brace boasts that he is going to college because health insurance is enabling him to do so despite his injury. Another message is that health insurance is available through the exchange that is less costly than the penalties for not enrolling.
What options among the health care plans are proving the most popular? Are people buying based on price more than quality?
The most popular is the Silver plan. Gold and Platinum levels do well, too. People are shopping based on quality, not just price. They’re going for the gold. The “metal level” — Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum — determines premiums, co-payments, co-insurance, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs.
What, if any, changes would you make in how the Affordable Care Act has been implemented so far?
There have been a lot of rolling deadlines. People really have to stay on top of that. It’s hard to get information and people really have to stay tuned to keep up with all the information.
How is the search going for a permanent CEO for NMHIX?
We expect to hire a permanent CEO by next June. The search committee is still seeking candidates.
What would the savings be to the state if all who were eligible purchased insurance through NMHIX?
It’s too early to tell, but as more New Mexicans enroll in health insurance, NMHIX will start taking a measure of the impact on health care costs in general.
— Compiled by CMI staff writer Steve Hansen