By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE — As the March 31 deadline for open enrollment bears down, the number of people in New Mexico signing up for individual policies under the Affordable Care Act fell for the second consecutive month.
Between Feb. 2 and March 1, 3,392 people in New Mexico enrolled, compared to 3,932 people who signed up the month before, a drop of 13.7 percent. The previous month saw a 41.8 percent decline when compared to December.
But Debra Hammer,spokeswoman for the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, remains upbeat.
“We’re seeing with this deadline coming up of March 31 — obviously, there was a big surge at the end of December — and we’re expecting the same thing as people wait for the last two weeks,” Hammer told New Mexico Watchdog. “We’re seeing our website hits go up and our call center volume is at an all-time high.”
Through March 1, 15,012 New Mexicans have signed up for individual policies:
The original goal when the NMHIX launched this past fall was to sign up 80,000 people across the state, but that was adjusted down to 50,000 after the infamous computer glitches that accompanied the rollout of the health-care law.
To get to 50,000 by the end of March would require an incredible surge — nearly 35,000 sign-ups in a month.
“We would like as many people as we can by March 31, obviously,” Hammer said. “I think there is some realistic expectation that we’re putting our projections based on how many people are eligible for the exchange. My understanding was that our goal was always to get 50,000 by the end of 2014.”
Another concern about the latest data, compiled by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, is the number of people between 18 and 34 signing up in New Mexico is stuck at 20 percent.
Without the so-called “young invincibles,” the ACA won’t be financially viable in the long run.
Nationally, it was hoped that up to 40 percent of the people signing up would be younger than 35, but the HHS numbers across the country is at 25 percent thus far, and the numbers in New Mexico are 5 percent lower.
In the past two months, NMHIX has been running an advertising campaign aimed at young people. But the New Mexico numbers show the largest segment of the population signing up individual policies is between the ages of 55 and 64 — 36 percent — and the second-largest segment is between 45 and 54.
“We are a little below the national average,” Hammer said, “but we know that younger people can be procrastinators sometimes, so we’re hoping more people sign up in the last two weeks … I feel we are going in the right direction.”
NMHIX has budgeted $6 million to $7 million for an ad campaign and, since January, part of the ad blitz has been aimed at luring younger consumers to buy individual policies.
So what happens if people who don’t already have health care refuse to sign up? Hammer said a penalty — $95 or 1 percent of a person’s gross adjusted income, whichever is larger — would be enforced when people file their tax returns.
As for sign-ups by gender and the percentage of those signing up with federal subsidies, New Mexico’s numbers closely track the national percentages:
President Obama has delayed implementation of certain aspects of the ACA. But, as of Monday, administration officials said there are no plans to delay the March 31 deadline for open enrollment. If eligible people fail to sign up by the end of the month they will have to wait until late October to sign up for individual policies.
Here’s one of the commercials NMIX is running that’s aimed at young people:
Contact Rob Nikolewski at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski