Health exchange board delays decision to extend enrollment deadline

The reprieve will have to wait.

Consumers looking for a special enrollment period on the Silver State Health Insurance Exchange’s Nevada Health Link website didn’t get their break Thursday, as the exchange’s board tabled for a week a decision on additional sign-up time.

Board members said they will revisit the issue in their Thursday meeting, after members get more information on how many people have had trouble signing up because of technical flaws. Board members also wanted to know how extending the enrollment period might affect insurers, who based their 2014 premiums on a sign-up session that ends March 31.

“I would love if we could do this today, but we really do need more information,” said Vice Chair Lynn Etkins. “We need to know more about how many people there are, who’s caught in the system and how it would work.”

The board is eyeing a special enrollment period limited to consumers who have tried and failed to get covered through Nevada Health Link. Software glitches have held enrollment in the program to less than 21,000, well below the initial target of 118,000 members by March 31.

The special enrollment period could last up to 60 days, and must begin by March 31.

Board members said they were concerned that some consumers who abandoned enrollment with no intention of signing up might come back into the system if they now have a medical crisis they need covered.

They were also uncertain how insurers would fare under a special sign-up session.

Damon Haycock, the exchange’s finance and research officer, told the board straying from the original timeline could affect approval and testing of plans for the 2015 enrollment period, scheduled to start Nov. 15.

Nevada Insurance Commissioner Scott Kipper added that extending enrollment would leave his agency less time to vet 2015’s plans and rates.

Still, the exchange owes a second chance to people who tried unsuccessfully to sign up, said board Chair Barbara Smith Campbell.

“Our purpose is to get people enrolled, and we have failed the Nevada citizens who have attempted to enroll,” Campbell said. “It’s our responsibility to those people to give them every avenue we can, whether it be 30 days or 60 days, to finish a process that they started.”

But Etkins said she’s not sure how the current system would screen consumers for prior sign-up attempts. She also said she didn’t know, based on Nevada Health Link’s substandard performance, whether website contractor Xerox would be able to handle the potential crush of added enrollees.

So the board has asked Kipper and Xerox to have more details on the potential effects of special enrollment for next week’s meeting.

The board also discussed hiring an executive director to replace Jon Hager, who steps down Friday.

Steve Fisher, the exchange’s interim director, said the agency has published job postings in newspapers, trade magazines and on job-search websites. He also recommended retaining a recruiting firm to help with the hunt. Fisher advised the board to consider either Arizona-based Mercer Morgan, which would charge 25 percent of the position’s $117,000 salary, or California-based Bob Murray and Associates, which would bill the state $17,500, plus expenses.

The board said it will look more closely at contract costs and other recruiting firms before it decides.

Fisher also gave the board an update on enrollment numbers. Nearly 7,000 Nevadans enrolled in Medicaid last week, while 1,282 chose a qualified private health plan through the exchange. Nevada Health Link’s website had 72,000 unique visitors and enrolled 322 new members.

In other exchange news, the Nevada Board of Examiners has scheduled a meeting Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to discuss a $1.5 million contract the exchange wants to sign with Deloitte Consulting. The agreement would ask Deloitte for analysis on the exchange website’s flaws and how the glitches could be fixed.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.