Exchange signups very low

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By Barry Massey
The Associated Press

SANTA FE — Fewer than 200 New Mexicans signed up for health insurance plans through a troubled federal online marketplace during its first month of operation, the Obama administration reported Wednesday.

The announcement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services confirmed the disappointing enrollment that New Mexico officials had expected because of computer glitches that hampered the start of the federal health insurance exchange.

“Everybody is pretty frustrated with the feds,” said Dr. J. R. Damron, chairman of the governing board of New Mexico’s state-run insurance exchange that is handling enrollment of small businesses.

Fellow board member Jason Sandel expressed a harsher view and said he wants the state to more quickly take over enrolling individuals rather than waiting for the federal website to be fixed.

“I don’t have any great hope that something is going to significantly improve in the next month or two. And at the end of the day, we have to get people enrolled on insurance. The infrastructure that’s in place today, as I know it, isn’t sufficient, isn’t adequate and has been a failure,” said Sandel. “The success of the New Mexico exchange is entirely dependent upon getting tens of thousands people enrolled as quickly as possible.”

The board had decided to rely for a year on the federal system for individuals because there wasn’t enough time to have the state-run online system ready to handle the larger volume of individuals.

The federal agency said 172 individuals in New Mexico signed up for a health plan offered by a private insurer through the exchange from Oct. 1 to Nov. 2, and 4,055 applications have been completed, which would lead to about 7,500 people being covered by insurance. Some applications cover more than one person in a household.

Overall, 4,249 New Mexicans were found to be eligible to enroll through the marketplace, with about a third of those qualifying for federal subsidies to lower monthly premiums. An additional 3,552 individuals were determined to be eligible for taxpayer-financed health care through Medicaid, which is being expanded in New Mexico starting in January to cover more low-income adults.

New Mexico exchange officials had established a goal of enrolling 83,000 uninsured people during the first year of operation of the federal and state online systems. About a fifth of New Mexico’s population under age 65 lacks health insurance — among the highest uninsured rates in the country.