Nevada Health Link Update

The state’s health insurance exchange reported its first sign-up numbers this morning.

Nevada Health Link said 10,198 Nevadans had enrolled in plans through the marketplace as of Friday, based on numbers from the five carriers selling plans in the system.

Enrollment opened on Nov. 15.

The sign-up rate easily outpaced the health link’s first enrollment session, which suffered from website glitches and an understaffed call center. In the first three weeks alone, the exchange has signed up more than a quarter of the number of people it enrolled from October 2013 to May. From last October to mid-January, the exchange had roughly 12,000 sign-ups. It ended its special enrollment period in May with about 38,000 enrollees, or about a third of the 118,000 sign-ups it aimed for in its first year.

The exchange board in May fired website contractor Xerox and agreed to borrow the federal system for enrollment and eligibility functions for the current session, which runs through Feb. 15.

“I am very encouraged by the initial numbers being reported by our insurance carriers,” said Bruce Gilbert, exchange executive director. “This year poses the additional challenge of regaining the public’s trust, and while we knew from the outset it would be difficult, this news is a welcomed sign that many Nevadans are willing to give us another chance. There remains much work to be done before February and we now look to build on a successful start to open enrollment.”

Brokers agreed the new system was working well.

“It’s like night and day” when compared with the first session, said Len Barend, an insurance broker with The Barend Agency in Las Vegas. It now takes as little as 45 minutes to complete an application, down from 2 1/2 hours a year ago.

Barend said he’s enrolled about a dozen clients in exchange plans so far this session. The system is “much faster and much more accurate,” he said. “It really is 300 percent better, and if you talk to other brokers, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Barend said he’s experienced just two glitches: On Tuesday, he couldn’t find any plans from nonprofit insurer Nevada Health CO-OP online. The plans were back by Wednesday. And the exchange told one client who was re-enrolling that it couldn’t verify her identity. The client was working with the exchange as of Wednesday to clear up the issue, Barend said.

Barend added that he expects enrollment to taper off as the Dec. 15 deadline passes to apply for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1.

Andres Ramirez, president and CEO of navigator firm The Ramirez Group, said enrollment has been “going great.” The firm’s navigators have been able to complete some applications in as little as 15 minutes.

It’s “definitely a much better experience than last year,” Ramirez said.

The exchange didn’t separately calculate how many enrollees are new customers versus existing members who must re-enroll to keep their premium tax credit because of the changeover to the federal website.

But Gilbert urged existing enrollees to return to the site to ensure they keep their subsidy.

“The new system is working and we now need our current members to come back, create a new account, and enroll again. I am confident that through our outreach efforts and those of our partners, a majority of our current participants will return to take advantage of subsidized rates by the close of the open enrollment period.”

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