FARMINGTON — Tuesday's launch of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange has ignited a massive effort to get information out to the public about insurance options under the new system.
The multi-million dollar campaign, entitled BeWellNM, involves numerous marketing initiatives, and one of the campaign's first steps is a statewide tour to educate people on the new exchange, which is often referred to as NMHIX. In conjunction with the Association of Commerce and Industry and the New Mexico Association of Counties, health insurance exchange representatives and consultants are visiting communities throughout the state to deliver two-hour presentations on NMHIX.
On Thursday, a three-person team offered the presentation to a packed room at San Juan College.
The presenters explained that while individuals can create NMHIX accounts and apply for insurance through the website -- which can be accessed at BeWellNM.com -- they will automatically be re-directed to a federal exchange site during the system's first year. NMHIX hopes to offer plans to individuals directly through the state exchange sometime next year.
Much of Thursday's presentation focused on small business options for enrolling employees in the NMHIX.
"The exchanges are for both individuals and small businesses," said NMHIX consultant Steve Chriest. "They're really a way to help people find insurance that fits their budget. People now have options that are presented in a way that makes it easy for them to compare them."
Chriest explained that open enrollment for individuals in the NMHIX started Tuesday and runs through April 1, 2014. People can choose from five qualified health plans: Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Lovelace, Molina, New Mexico Health Connections and Presbyterian.
Each of the plans offers several levels of coverage, from bronze to platinum. All plans offer benefits such as doctor's visits, emergency services and maternity/newborn care, as well as mental health and substance abuse services. Subsidies for qualified low-income individuals and families are available.
In New Mexico, Chriest said, small businesses, including nonprofits, with 50 or fewer employees can log into the NMHIX system now and access a Small Business Option Program, or SHOP, and choose a coverage level. Employees of participating businesses can log into the system starting in November and choose a plan. Coverage through SHOP enrollment begins Jan. 1, 2014.
There is no mandate for employers to provide insurance for their employees, so several incentives are being offered to encourage small businesses to participate in the exchange, including tax breaks. In addition, SHOP is offering a "Golden Enrollment Period" during November and December, during which there will be no minimum employee participation rate to enroll. After December, there will be a 50 percent minimum employee participation requirement to enroll in SHOP plans.
To make the whole process easier, Chriest said, 370 certified health care guides are now available throughout the state to help people navigate the exchange. Plus, many insurance brokers and agents have also been trained to help. A list of local agents and health care guides can be found by entering a zip code into the NMHIX website.
Starting Jan. 1, 2014, nearly all Americans will be mandated to have insurance, and those who don't will have to pay a penalty. The penalty will either be a flat fee or 1 percent of the person's taxable income, whichever is greater. The fee grows larger each year. In 2014, uninsured individuals will pay a fee of $95 a year. By 2015, the individual will pay $325, and, by 2016, the fee increases to $695. There is an added fee for each child who remains uninsured.
There are some waivers to the mandate, including for religious religions and for tribal members and incarcerated individuals.
"Our goal is to enroll about 83,000 new members over the next year, and we also have a Native American campaign to reach out to those on the reservations," Chriest said.
Chriest said Native Americans can sign up through NMIX or use Indian Health Service. An NMHIX official later stated that Native Americans will be allowed to use both Indian Health Service and choose an insurance plan through the exchange.
NMHIX consultant Steve Morgan spoke about the challenges planners and board members faced getting the new system and system up and running.
"Creation of this exchange has been Herculean in terms of challenges people have faced," he said. "But New Mexico has fared so much better than many other state start-ups. We took control of our exchange and were able to build our own SHOP."
Following the presentation, San Juan County Executive Officer Kim Carpenter said continued education about the new health insurance options and requirements is key.
"It's very important to have an open dialogue and to be able to ask questions and have questions answered," he said.