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New Mexico health insurance exchange / marketplace

43k New Mexico exchange enrollees by January 16

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  • healthinsurance.org contributor
  • January 23, 2015

2015 New Mexico exchange enrollment

As of January 16, 43,054 people in New Mexico had completed their 2015 private plan enrollments through the exchange, including auto-renewals of 2014 plans.  HHS had projected 43,000 enrollees in the New Mexico exchange by the end of open enrollment, so with nearly a month to go, the state has already surpassed their official goal (admittedly, the goals published by HHS were probably set on the low side this year, to avoid all of the hoopla we saw last year in terms of reaching the stated target).  With the expected enrollment surge that will happen in the days leading up to February 15, there is no doubt that New Mexico will enroll significantly more people than projected this year.

Of the people who enrolled in private plans in the New Mexico exchange by December 15 (not including auto-renewals), 73 percent qualified for premium subsidies.  And 59 percent of the enrollees were new to the exchange for 2015 – the highest percentage of any state in the mid-December HHS report (Nevada and Oregon both show 100% new, but that’s because those states switched to Healthcare.gov and everyone had to re-enroll).

Another 5,249 exchange enrollees in New Mexico were eligible for expanded Medicaid or CHIP during the first month of open enrollment.

Carriers in the NM exchange are predicting total 2015 enrollment of around 50,000 to 55,000 people, although the exchange itself has avoided making any hard predictions for 2015 after falling far short of their goal last year.  For 2014, the exchange thought they’d enroll about 80,000 people, and ended up enrolling only about 34,000 – less than half of their target.  Some of that was due to technical failures, but the predictions from carriers for 2015 indicates that perhaps the exchange set an unrealistic goal in 2014.  And the closer we get to February 15, the more accurate the carriers’ projections are looking.

Default auto-renewal, but you can still switch

If your plan auto-renewed for January, you still have an option to choose a different plan for 2015, as long as you enroll by February 15.  People who enroll between January 16 and February 15 will have coverage effective March 1.  After February 15, you will not be able to select a 2015 plan in the individual market – on or off-exchange – unless you have a qualifying event later in the year.

Lower 2015 rates and a new carrier

Open enrollment began on November 15, and sticker shock isn’t a problem in New Mexico in 2015.  Across the four carriers that participated in the exchange in 2014, the state announced in September that the weighted average premium change for 2015 would be a decrease of 1.65 percent.  This is especially good news given that in 2014, the lowest cost bronze plan in the NM exchange averages $217 a month, quite a bit lower than the national average of $249.

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC conducted rate analysis across the entire individual market, including on and off-exchange plans.  For New Mexico, the weighted average they found for all six carriers is an increase of 1.4 percent.  But a Commonwealth Fund analysis of just the plans in the exchange found an average rate decrease of 1 percent.  And for people who have the benchmark plan (second lowest-cost silver plan), the price decrease for 2015 is even more pronounced.

Christus Health Plan also joined the exchange in 2015, bringing the total number of carriers to five. Christus is joining Health Care Service Corporation (Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico), Molina Healthcare of New Mexico, New Mexico Health Connections and Presbyterian Health Plan.  There are a total of more than 40 plans available through BeWellNM for 2015.

New leadership and marketing

The New Mexico exchange (NMHIX) is continuing to operate as a partnership exchange with the federal government, and is utilizing HealthCare.gov for individual plan enrollments during the current open enrollment.  Small businesses use the state-run exchange portal.

In late August, NMHIX hired CEO Amy Doud, who came to them from the Idaho exchange that she had run for 15 months (Idaho was a partnership exchange in 2014, but will be a state-run exchange in 2015). Doud’s focus is on working with agents and brokers and promoting one-on-one assistance to drive up enrollment numbers, as much of Idaho’s success during the first open enrollment has been attributed to their strong partnership with agents and brokers.

Just a few weeks before the start of open enrollment, NMHIX hired a new Director of Communications and Outreach.  Linda Wedeen has three decades of experience in marketing and communications in New Mexico.

The exchange was also hiring additional enrollment counselors leading up to open enrollment, and was particularly focused on recruiting enrollment counselors who would be able to reach out to the Native American population in the state.

New marketing and PR team

In the summer of 2013, NMHIX began working with Milwaukee-based marketing firm BVK to market and promote the exchange throughout the state.  In July 2014, the exchange board unanimously voted to renew the BVK contract for $6.2 million.  But in September, NMHIX Chair Dr. J.R. Damron expressed dissatisfaction with the marketing approach, and highlighted recent survey numbers that found the majority of uninsured adults in NM were unaware of the services the exchange provides, and even more had not heard about the exchange on various media sources.

The agreement with BVK was terminated and the marketing contract was put out for bidding in September.  In early October, 18 firms submitted bids; 12 are local New Mexico companies.  BVK did not bid for the new contract, but has said it’s committed to working with the new contractor for a smooth hand-off.  The contract was ultimately awarded to Garrity Group PR in November, along with K2MD.

ACA-created CO-OP doing well

New Mexico Health Connections, one of the four carriers that offered plans in 2014 through NMHIX, is a CO-OP (consumer oriented and operated plan) established with funding provided by the ACA.  By June 2014, New Mexico Health Connections had 9,142 enrollees.  And by the end of September, New Mexico Health Connection’s enrollment was “well past 15,000″ members.  (qualifying events trigger special enrollment periods, so enrollment can continue to increase year-round.  For some health plans, this has been offset by members cancelling their coverage or not paying their premiums – that does not appear to be the case for NMHC).

New Mexico Health Connections brought in $10.3 million in premiums during the first six months of 2014, and paid out $9.3 million in claims.  From July through September, the CO-OP took in $20.1 million in premiums, and paid out $15.7 million in claims, for a medical loss ratio of 78 percent (the portion of premiums that are spent on medical claims).  The ACA requires insurers in the individual and small group markets to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical expenses, but the CO-OPs have three years to reach that target.

The CO-OP received significant federal loans to get up and running, and although the CO-OP is running at a loss right now ($8.2 million as of the latest report filed with regulators), CEO Martin Hickey says that they are financially solid and will be able to repay all of their loans.  He pointed out that most start-ups take a few years to get past the red ink, and noted that enrollment over the last six months has “exploded” for the CO-OP.  He also explained how New Mexico Health Connections is not in danger of succumbing to the financial difficulties that toppled CoOportunity in Iowa and Nebraska.

In the first few weeks of the 2015 open enrollment (November 15 through December 10), the CO-OP enrolled 3,000 people in 2015 plans, and volume was increasing heading into the final few days to get a plan with a January 1 start date.  Hickey said that total enrollment in New Mexico Health Connections was about 18,000 people as of the end of December, although many of them are enrolled in small business plans.

The ACA’s subsidies

According to a report released by HHS in mid-June, the average after-subsidy premium in the New Mexico exchange was $120/month in 2014, significantly higher than the $82/month average across the 36 federally-facilitated marketplaces (FFM).  And only 78% of New Mexico exchange enrollees received subsidies, compared with 87% across all of the FFMs.

The average after-subsidy premium in New Mexico was the fifth highest among the 36 FFMs, but NM Superintendent of Insurance John Franchini attributes that to one of the four carriers in the exchange charging premiums that were 20 to 25 percent higher than the other three carriers.  He didn’t say which carrier it was, but noted that it was a carrier with which people were already familiar, and about a third of the enrollees picked that carrier’s plans, despite the higher premiums.

Since the tax credit subsidies are based on the cost of the second-lowest-price Silver plan, an outlier plan on the high end will mean higher average after-subsidy premiums if a significant number of people choose to apply their subsidy towards the high cost plan instead of selecting a less expensive policy.  Franchini notes that even though $120/month is higher than the average in most of the other FFM states, it’s still far less expensive than people would have been paying prior to the implementation of Obamacare and the premium tax credits.

Be Well New Mexico’s 2014 enrollment

By April 15, 2014, 34,966 people had completed their private plan selections through the New Mexico Exchange.  This was roughly 11 percent of the eligible population, and was significantly lower than the state had projected.

An additional 30,147 exchange applicants were eligible for the state’s expanded Medicaid program during open enrollment.  But Medicaid enrollment is year-round, and most eligible residents in New Mexico have enrolled directly with the state’s Medicaid program rather than going through the exchange.  By late November, the total new enrollment in Medicaid had reached 170,000. That’s more than 76 percent of the total eligible population, making New Mexico one of the most successful states for Medicaid enrollment. 

New Mexico had the ninth-highest drop in uninsured rate during the first half of 2014.  According to a Gallup poll released in August, the state’s uninsured rate was 20.2 percent in 2013, and had dropped to 15.2 percent by mid-2014.

An expensive exchange

New Mexico’s exchange had the seventh highest cost per enrollee in the nation in 2014, coming in at about $6181 per enrollee when total start-up and operating expenses were divided among the 32,062 people who had selected a private plan by the end of March.

However, nearly three thousand more New Mexicans completed their Obamacare enrollment in the first half of April, which brings the total cost per enrollee down to about $5668.  This is still far higher than the national average of $922 though.  The exchange must be financially self-sufficient by 2016 and is still working out the details of how to get there.

A unique exchange design

New Mexico settled on a unique approach to its health insurance marketplace. For individuals seeking health insurance, the state operates Be Well New Mexico in partnership with the federal government. Small businesses use the state-run SHOP exchange.

The state had previously announced that it would run all aspects of the exchange on its own, the exchange board determined in May 2013 that it did not have enough time to get computer systems up and running. (While Utah is also using a hybrid approach, the specifics are different. Utah is leaving the individual exchange exclusively to the federal government and operating the small business exchange on its own.).

Originally New Mexico had planned to have its own individual exchange operational by October 1, 2014, in time for the 2015 open enrollment that begins on November 15.  But ultimately the state decided to continue to use HealthCare.gov for individual plan enrollments in 2015.  General open enrollment doesn’t start again until November 15, but people with qualifying events can enroll during their own special open enrollment window.

Enrollees can also call 1-855-99-NMHIX for personal assistance with individual coverage, and the exchange created a website where consumers can see average prices for individual plans in order to get an idea of what’s available from the five participating insurers without having to access the full services at Healthcare.gov.

The state-run SHOP exchange

By March 18, the state-run SHOP exchange had enrolled 524 people, including 345 employees and 179 of their dependents.  Nearly 1500 small businesses had started their applications in the SHOP exchange by the end of 2013, and several thousand employee names had been entered into the system.  But by December, total enrollment was still only around 800 people.  SHOP enrollment runs year-round, so businesses can continue to apply throughout the year.

The SHOP exchange needs $1.5 million in annual funding starting in 2015 when it must operate without financing from the federal government.  In December 2014, the exchange board voted to impose a fee on all health insurance policies sold in the state of New Mexico, in order to raise the funds needed for Be Well New Mexico’s SHOP exchange in 2015 and beyond.

Establishing the exchange

New Mexico’s path to establishing an exchange was atypical. New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican who opposes the federal health reform law, has been the driving force in establishing an exchange and advocating for the state-run model.

Martinez designated that the Health Insurance Alliance develop the state exchange. The Health Insurance Alliance is a nonprofit association of health plans created by the state Legislature in 1994 to offer health insurance coverage to small employers. Later, the Senate and House both approved a state-run exchange.

New Mexico health insurance exchange links

Be Well New Mexico
For individuals and families (small businesses should contact healthcare.gov)

Guide to the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange
Includes details about carriers, important dates, eligibility and enrollment information

New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange
Administrative and start-up information

New Mexico Health Insurance Alliance

State Exchange Profile: New Mexico 
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation overview of New Mexico’s progress toward creating a state health insurance exchange.