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Blue Cross to again sell insurance on NM health exchange

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico will once again sell plans on the state health insurance exchange after taking a year off.

The company exited the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange for 2016 when its requested premium hike of nearly 52 percent didn’t pass muster with regulators.

However, it is looking to sell individual Affordable Care Act plans for 2017, a company official confirmed Tuesday.

The insurer will be one of five companies filing preliminary rates this month with New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Franchini. The preliminary rate increases are expected to be made public soon.

“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico has filed products and pricing for next year,” said Kurt Shipley, company president. “We will continue to work with the Office of Superintendent of Insurance and federal regulators to ensure a stable and sustainable insurance marketplace for consumers.

“We believe that consumers will find our 2017 offerings to be competitively priced with offerings from other New Mexico carriers,” he said.

Shipley would not provide details on the company’s request.

He said the company plans to offer insurance products with a range of benefits and premiums to New Mexicans across the state. “We want to be an option for people to consider for their health insurance needs.”

Calls to Franchini seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Also expected to file are the firms that sold policies on the exchange in 2016: New Mexico Health Connections, Presbyterian Health Plan, Christus Health Plan and Molina Healthcare of New Mexico.

Rate increase proposals aren’t yet public, and the insurers’ rates could be adjusted before final requests are filed in mid-June. Customers will have a chance to shop around for coverage during an open enrollment period that begins in November. The new rates would go into effect Jan. 1.

About 55,000 people in the state bought private health insurance this year through the state’s health exchange.

When Blue Cross Blue Shield filed its premiums in 2015 to be included on the roster of 2016 insurers, Franchini said he was prepared to approve only a 24 percent increase. The insurer said that wasn’t sufficient to cover its anticipated losses.

Shipley, in a May 2015 interview with the Journal, said those who bought individual plans tended to be older and in poorer health than expected. Others came to the company having not previously had health coverage.

Franchini had approved much smaller rate increases for the other insurance companies that offer plans on the exchange.

Blue Cross’ departure prompted more than 35,000 New Mexicans to find different insurers among the four selling policies. Blue Cross had more than 50 percent of the sign ups at one time.