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Cost for companies using NM insurance exchange set at 50 percent

Reporter- Albuquerque Business First
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New Mexico companies that want to buy insurance for their employees on the state’s health insurance exchange will have to pay 50 percent of the cost of the policies and ensure that at least half of their workers buy insurance – at least for now.

The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange board approved those measures Wednesday along with a plan to give workers a choice of health plans, but only after going back and forth on the issues. And the board, which was under time pressure to get those decisions made quickly because testing of the exchange site begins Aug. 12, said it would revisit them after getting input from actuaries.

The board initially discussed the minimum amount that employers would have to pay for their workers’ policies. Exchange CEO Mike Nunez said 50 percent was the industry standard. Board member Jason Sandel of Farmington argued that the figure was too high and that small businesses wouldn’t be able to afford it. After a long round of debate, the board approved a 25 percent figure.

After that they discussed how many employees would have to buy insurance on the exchange in order for a business to be able to participate and qualify for federal tax credits. Again, Nunez said 50 percent was the industry standard, and again Sandel said it was too high. The board approved the 50 percent participation rate.

Then, at the insistence of several board members, including Ben Slocum, former CEO of Lovelace Health Plan, the board decided to revisit its earlier vote to set the minimum employer payment rate at 50 percent. Slocum said the decision had been made without input from actuaries and that it could affect the overall health of the exchange. He cautioned that it would be easier to lower the rate from 50 percent in the future than to raise it from 25 percent. The board then reversed its earlier 25 percent minimum employer payment rate and set it at 50 percent.

The board instructed Nunez to engage an actuary and report any findings at the Aug. 16 board meeting.

The board also voted to – at least temporarily – give employers a two-month “golden enrollment” period in which the minimum employee participation rate would be waived. That period will run from Oct. 1 through Nov. 30.

The exchange is supposed to be operational on Oct. 1 and businesses and individuals are supposed to be able to buy policies through the exchange beginning then.

The board also voted to award a marketing and public relations contract worth up to $7.7 million to a partnership of the Milwaukee-based BVK advertising firm and Cooney Watson & Associates, an Albuquerque public relations firm.

Board members also voted to let employees choose a health plan from any one of the five insurers that have been approved to sell on the exchange. It’ll work like this:

An employer will choose what level of plan to fund – either bronze, silver, gold or platinum – and employees will be able to any plan in that category offered by any of the five insurers.

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