Mixed results for Obamacare numbers in NM

A SURGE, BUT …: The number of people in New Mexico signing up for Affordable Care Act quadrupled in the last few weeks of open enrollment but there are some concerns behind the numbers.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – The number of people in New Mexico signing up for individual policies under the Affordable Care Act surged during a six-week push before the open-enrollment deadline passed.

But there are questions about how many have paid their premiums, and the number of so-called “young invincibles” is still below expectations.

In numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 32,062 New Mexicans have signed up for Obamacare.

More than half of those (17,050) signed up in March and the first 15 days in April. The enrollment deadline was originally set for March 31, but President Obama extended it.

“It was a very significant increase,” Mike Nuñez, the interim CEO of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, told New Mexico Watchdog. “The deadline drove a lot of people to motivate, to call, to get in lines, to take actions.”

Compared to the results from February, the 17,050-figure represents an increase of a whopping 402 percent, snapping a two-month skid that saw the percentage in New Mexico drop in January and February.

“We did a lot of work to get a lot of people connected,” Nuñez said, including sending 10,000 electronic post cards, 3,700 emails and 28,000 phone calls to eligible enrollees.

But warning signs still accompany the statistics.

First, only 23 percent of those enrolled in New Mexico were between the ages of 18 and 34 — the “young invincibles” that need to sign up to keep premiums from increasing. That’s 3 percent higher than March but 5 percent less than the national 18-34 figure of 28 percent:

obamacare numbers by age through april 19

“Our goal is at least 30 percent” of enrollees being under the age of 35, said Dr. J.R. Damron, chairman of the NMIX board. “We want to at least match what the feds have. It’s got to be affordable.”

“It means we need to further intensify our efforts,” Nuñez said.

Even the national numbers for the 18-34 category are 12 percent below the 40 percent expected when the ACA rolled out last year.

The largest age group signing up in New Mexico were people between from ages 55 to 64 — 32 percent, which is 7 percent higher than the national average.

Second, HHS has not disclosed how many of the 8 million people across the nation who have signed up have actually paid their first-month’s premiums.

But saying it cross-checked the HHS numbers with insurance companies, the House Energy and Commerce Committee claims 33 percent of those on individual plans have not paid their first-month premiums.

HHS on Thursday said it won’t have numbers for paying customers until later this year but contended the House committee numbers looked at only about half the insurers who offer ACA plans.

“It doesn’t match with public comments by insurance company executives, most of which have indicated that they are seeing 80 (percent) to 90 percent of their enrollees pay their premiums,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday.

“If you were a business owner and you have accounts receivable and 20 percent of your accounts on a monthly basis did not pay their bill, you’d say, we’ve got a problem here,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, who sits on the committee.

Nuñez said NMHIX doesn’t know how many enrollees in New Mexico have paid their premiums. “We’ve been focused on getting the enrollments in,” he said. “Now we can start looking at who’s in, who’s paid and do some analysis on that.” Nuñez did not have a specific date when that analysis would start.

Here is the breakdown for enrollees by gender and those receiving federal subsidies:

by gender

The next open enrollment period for Obamacare starts Nov. 15, but NMHIX officials are appealing to HHS to let New Mexico start Oct. 1.

“We want to have as long an enrollment period as possible to reach out to all those folks tell them that they can come to us,” Nuñez said.

Starting this fall, enrollees in New Mexico can deal directly with the NMHIX website, www.bewell.nm.com, instead of the www.healthcare.gov site that was plagued by so many problems earlier this year.

“I don’t think we would have had those challenges that occurred, especially in the first 75-90 days with the federal website,” Damron said.

When the NMHIX site launched late last year, officials set a goal of 83,000 sign-up for individual policies by the end of 2014. That’s a little more than 51,000 shy of where New Mexico stands now.

“At 32,000 we’re in the ballpark, but it’s not where we want to be,” Damron said.

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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