NM Obamacare numbers jump, but where are the ‘young invincibles’?


GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS: The number of people in New Mexico signing up for individual coverage under Obamacare spiked in December but the number of young people enrolling is lagging.

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 increased more than seven-fold in December, but the percentage of young people enrolling is running well below expectations.

“We’re glad that (the numbers) are higher, but we hope to get more,” New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange interim CEO Mike Nuñez told New Mexico Watchdog on Wednesday.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the overall number of people signing up for individual policies in New Mexico increased from 934 at the end of November to 7,688 by the end of December. That means 6,754 people enrolled in December, a 723 percent spike.

“The increase there is really extreme,” Nuñez said. “We’re happy about that.”

On the other hand, just 18 percent of people enrolled so far in New Mexico are between the ages of 18 and 34 — the so-called “young invincibles” essential in keeping the program financially viable.

To keep premiums reasonable, about 40 percent of the total enrollees in the ACA need to fall into that age category. Since young people generally compose the healthiest segment of the population, their premiums help offset the higher costs incurred by the older and sicker people in the plan.

In national figures released earlier this week by HHS, just 24 percent of people between 18 and 34 have signed up for individual policies.

New Mexico’s 18 percent figure for that age group tied for third-lowest among all 50 states. Only Arizona and West Virginia had lower numbers.

Conversely, New Mexico had a higher rate of people between 55 and 64 signing up when compared to the national numbers —38 percent for New Mexico, 33 percent for the U.S.

Citing the national figures, Obamacare critic Avik Roy of Forbes.com, said, ”We may not get as far as a true ‘death spiral,’ but for tens of millions of Americans, the law’s promise of affordable health insurance is unlikely to materialize.”

But Obama administration officials say they expect young people to sign up in greater numbers as the March 31 open enrollment deadline approaches. “We are confident based on the results we have now that we’ll have the appropriate mix of individuals enrolled in coverage,” said Michael Hash of the HHS Office of Health Reform.

As for New Mexico, NMHIX will intensify its advertising and marketing campaign to attract more young people later this month. “Given the numbers we’ve got, we’ll be starting a youth-involved campaign,” Nuñez said. ”We hope to appeal to that population and bring them in.”

NMHIX has budgeted between $6 million and $7 million for its overall advertising and marketing efforts.

Originally, NMHIX officials were hoping to sign up 83,000 for individual policies, but Nuñez said the glitch-filled rollout of the federal website has caused them to adjust their target number downward.

“Eighty-three thousand is a best-case scenario,” Nuñez said. “A more realistic number is in the 50,000 range” by March 31.

“We’re meeting many of our goals,” J.R. Damron, the chairman of the NMIX, told New Mexico Watchdog. “It’s been a challenge with the individual portion that goes through the federal website but we’re hopeful that our goals can be achieved by March 31.”

In a separate statistic, HHS reports 12,327 people in New Mexico have qualified for Medicaid.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the numbers for New Mexico through Dec. 28:

Click here to read the 29-page HHS report for December ACA numbers.

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

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