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FARMINGTON – A representative for the New Mexico Health Exchange is urging people to contact them to learn about changes to insurance plans and possible premium increases as open enrollment begins for next year.

Veronica Reyes, outreach coordinator for the state's health insurance exchange beWellnm, said the three-month enrollment period gives New Mexicans currently without healthcare an opportunity to sign up for insurance and those enrolled to see if there are changes to their plans. Open enrollment started on Tuesday and runs through Jan. 31.

There have been a number of updates to current plans and new plans have been introduced as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico returns to the exchange, replacing Presbyterian Healthcare Services as one of the four carriers.

Across the country, individual insurance rates are expected to increase an average of 25 percent for 2017, according to Reyes.

“This is not just exclusive to New Mexico, it’s happening nationwide,” Reyes said.

The New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance addressed the increase in individual insurance rates in a press release issued Tuesday.

Factors causing the increase in premiums include a rise in the cost of prescription drugs along with an adjustment to bring premiums in line with more realistic projections after they were set too low when the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014.

Reyes said people should not be discouraged by the news because the subsidies people might qualify for to help with health care costs also have increased.

“When we have a 25 percent rate increase overall, it sounds like it’s very high,” Reyes said. “However, when you put that into a dollar amount with subsidies, it’s not as high as it initially sounds.”

There are a number of options for people who need help re-enrolling or enrolling for the first time.

Farmington is one of five cities in New Mexico with an Enrollment Assistance Center operated by BeWellNM and the New Mexico Primary Care Association. There also are offices in Albuquerque, Gallup, Las Cruces and Santa Fe.

Office staff can help individuals and families compare and select a health plan. Appointments can be made and walk-ins will be accepted.

Reyes said it can helpful to have someone in-person to evaluate health care providers and premium costs.

The Farmington office at 1305 E. 20th St. opened in November last year. The hours of operation are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Appointment-only hours are on Wednesdays from 5 to 8 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

If someone wants their coverage to start on Jan. 1, Reyes said they need to be enrolled by Dec. 15.

For more information, visit bewellnm.com or call the toll-free number at 855-996-6449.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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