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Health exchange slow to organize

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New Mexico is on its way to establishing a health insurance exchange, but at least for this year individuals who want to buy health insurance will have to rely on the feds.

The state is planning to build an initial exchange for New Mexico’s small businesses in the coming months. But it only has 136 days before an Oct. 1 federal deadline by which to begin enrollment for such an exchange, a key provision of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.

The governing board that will oversee the New Mexico health insurance exchange voted unanimously on Friday to push ahead with a hybrid version until the state can set up its own exchange for both small businesses and individuals.

“It’s very unfortunate, from my perspective, that the state of New Mexico is in the position that we’re in, that we believe we have to use that federal program for the enrollment of individuals,” said board member, Jason Sandel, a Farmington city councilor and businessman who is vice chair of the 13-member board.

He stressed the importance ensuring that individuals who encounter problems with a federal insurance exchange don’t become discouraged “or we may lose them forever.”

John Franchini, state superintendent of insurance, told the board that even with a hybrid system, the state will still control the rates that employers and individuals will pay. He predicted a “very robust market” of insurance companies that will offer health insurance on the exchange, which would be accessed through an Internet website.

One board member likened the exchange to Orbitz.com or Travelocity, through which the uninsured can shop for medical coverage.

“There will be two brand-new companies in the marketplace and that’s the most we’ve had in 10 years,” Franchini said. “It’s looking like it’s going to be affordable for the public.”

Questions linger whether the state can get the proposed N.M. Shop for small businesses ready by the Oct. 1 deadline.

“If we’re not ready by Oct. 1, but we are ready by Oct. 15, what are they (the feds) going to do to us?” said J. Deane Waldman, a UNM pediatric cardiologist and board member. The exchange is supposed to be fully operating in January.

Over the past two years, the state Legislature and the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez administration differed over how to create an exchange. Enabling legislation was passed this March.

“This is the price we pay for having delayed it for so long,” said Barbara Webber, executive director of Health Action New Mexico.

The board also approved on Friday the hiring of a Silicon Valley-based Getinsured.com as its IT vendor. It will pay the firm $39.9 million over five years.

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