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New Mexico to use text messaging in final Obamacare enrollment push


By Joseph Conn
Posted: March 11, 2014 - 1:15 pm ET
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Public health organizations have used text messaging for years to improve pre- and post-natal care, but now the operators of the state health information exchange in New Mexico are using the same basic mobile telephone technology to try to boost health insurance enrollment under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The first enrollment period for uninsured individuals under ACA closes at the end of March, so the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange and mobile health services provider Voxiva are launching a program to create an alternative entry point for residents that might not have Web access or a smartphone, but do have a cellphone with text messaging capability.

The goal of the entire registration campaign is to make things as simple as possible for enrollees, and that means bringing the enrollment process to as many communication platforms as possible, said Debra Hammer, chief communications officer for NMHIX.

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New Mexico, a very rural Medicaid expansion state, had about 400,000 uninsured going into Obamacare, the second largest uninsured population in the nation, on a percentage basis, Hammer said.

The state hopes to have 30,000 enrolled by the end of March, and 50,000 by the end of they year, she said. The state's population is 40% Hispanic, and while other outreach functions are in Spanish, for the sake of simplicity at the start of the texting effort, which began last week, initial messages will be in English, she said.

“We're just getting the word out and we're starting to receive some text messages and some requests for help,” she said.

Hammer said she believes that New York has had some discussions about using text messaging, but that New Mexico is the first state to actually implement an outreach program for its exchange. The state plans to continue using text messaging to send premium reminders and to let enrollees know about free health services that are available to them, Hammer said.

To get started, residents can send the text message “BeWellNM” to the exchange at 311411*. In return, they will get two messages from the exchange asking them their household size and income before taxes. The information will be used by the exchange to determine whether the sender qualifies for the state's Medicaid program, or assistance with the purchase of private insurance under Obamacare.

Based on the user's response, NMHIX will then be able to quickly discern whether it's likely a Medicaid interaction or an Exchange interaction, and connect families and individuals with appropriate resources to enroll. New Mexicans can also respond that they would like to be contacted by someone to assist them through the enrollment process.

“I've used it and it's very simple,” Hammer said.

In 2010, the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition launched the Text4baby program, which uses text-based messages cellphone messages to remind mothers of their clinical appointment as well as provide them with other personally targeted information. By 2013, Text4baby claimed more than 500,000 subscribers (PDF).

Follow Joseph Conn on Twitter: @MHJConn


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