Across the country, many states have seen the number of residents who are able to get health insurance rise over the last few years, and that's a trend that has continued into 2016. New Mexico is no different, as a growing number of people purchased coverage through the state's BeWellNM insurance exchange during the most recent open enrollment period.
In all, federal data shows that BeWellNM had about 55,000 enrollees for the new year, a number that was up 3.8 percent from the approximately 53,000 seen in 2015, according to a report from the Albuquerque Journal. But what's interesting here is that about 24,000 of this year's sign-ups - about 40 percent of all enrollees - were actually new to buying coverage through the exchange site, as part of the churn between health insurance from a number of different sources.
What does that mean?
For instance, thousands of people across the state were likely to have seen their income or job status change, which would typically impact their ability to stay on the exchanges, the report said. Those who lost jobs, for instance, might have seen their income drop to the point where they now qualify for Medicaid instead, while others may have been able to get jobs that provided them with health insurance and therefore meant they didn't need to buy their own. Still more may have simply reached age 65 and therefore become eligible for Medicare.
Moreover, the roughly 40 percent of enrollees who were new to BeWellNM this year was right in line with the national number, the report said. About 2 in 5 of the 12.7 million people who signed up for similar exchanges across the country were also new to doing so.
Meanwhile, those who shopped around for coverage after at least a second year on the exchanges seemed to benefit from doing so, the report said. New Mexicans who switched plans on BeWellNM were able to cut their premiums by an average of $56 per month, and almost $676 annually. The average tax credit extended to enrollees was worth $205 per month, covering more than 60 percent of premiums. After tax credits were factored in, these premiums cost consumers just $127 per month.
Finally, it should be noted that half of all enrollees in the state were able to find incredibly low-cost coverage, the report said. In all, 50 percent of consumers could have selected policies with premiums of $75 or less per month if they so desired.
The issue for health insurers themselves, meanwhile, is that a lot of consumers may be signing up for coverage that they do not fully understand. Many studies have shown that consumers have a general lack of knowledge about even the most basic terms associated with coverage. Therefore, education efforts could go a long way toward helping people make the best possible decisions about their health care needs going forward.