It took an Albuquerque software company just a week to develop a health plan comparison tool that customers using the federal health insurance exchange have been demanding for almost two months. The tool is scheduled to be available on the New Mexico exchange website, bewellnm.com, on Monday. A similar tool is still on the federal site’s list of things to fix.
Users of the federal insurance exchange, where individuals are supposed to shop for coverage, complain that before they can begin evaluating their options they must first go through a long registration process on a website that often doesn’t work as expected or is impossible to access.
Once they get past the registration they have to choose from five companies each offering multiple insurance plans. They face dozens of pricing, coverage, copayment and deductible alternatives. The result, said New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange Chief Communications Officer Debra Hammer, is that the average shopper visits the federal exchange 18 times before deciding which policy to buy.
Even though the New Mexico exchange serves only businesses, officials asked Duke City Software to develop software that will allow individuals to quickly and easily sift through their alternatives, evaluate the plans’ details and compare them. It is all done on the New Mexico website, which does not require registration and which has been easily accessed since it went live Oct. 1.
“We had been waiting for the federal site to do it,” said exchange CEO Mike Nuñez. “It doesn’t seem to be coming fast enough.”
Duke City Software President Karen Gardner said she got a sense of what state exchange wanted on a Monday, sketched out some ideas the next day, got her team of subcontractors writing code on Thursday, and handed the tool off to the state exchange the next Monday, a one-week turnaround.
“It’s not a huge effort,” Gardner said. “The biggest problem was getting data” from the insurance companies.
“I don’t know why (fixing the federal exchange) is so hard,” she said. “I don’t know why it takes so long, I don’t know why there was such a problem with traffic” overwhelming the federal website. “These problems are solved in other places. They’re not brand new problems.”
Duke City Software had experience creating plan comparison software. Gardner did a similar project for the state Health Insurance Alliance, which helped small businesses find affordable coverage and which is being replaced by the insurance exchange. The company has also written two other web-based tools for the exchange.
“This is the benefit of the New Mexico exchange,” said Gabriel Parra, an attorney with Presbyterian Healthcare Services and an exchange director. “If there were no New Mexico exchange we’d be at the mercy of the Feds. We’re able to respond to New Mexicans.”
“We can be nimble,” Nuñez said. “We can react.”