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N.M. Getting $34M To Create Health Insurance Exchange

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SANTA FE – New Mexico will receive more than $34 million in federal funding to help create a state health insurance exchange, one of the key provisions in a controversial federal health care law.

The exchange, also described as an online health care marketplace, will allow consumers to compare insurance rates and shop for providers.

All states are required to set up such exchanges under the health care law, which President Barack Obama signed into law in March 2010. The federal government will set up exchanges for states that don’t take action.

Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed a bill in April that would have created an exchange, saying such legislation was premature.

However, Martinez’s office touted Tuesday’s announcement of the $34.3 million federal grant as the first step toward modernizing health insurance in New Mexico and providing more choices to consumers.

Dan Derksen, director of the state’s Office of Health Care Reform, said the federal funding will be used to cover consulting costs, staffing and initial development of a computer system.

“Gov. Martinez would like to have our state establish our own exchange,” Derksen said, alluding to the alternative possibility of having the federal government set it up.

The state’s Human Services Department applied for the funding in September and will seek additional grant money in March, he said. Once implemented, New Mexico’s health care exchange will offer a website where consumers can shop for insurance providers, a call center where customers can receive one-on-one advice and other services.

New Mexico was one of 13 states to receive a federal health exchange grant Tuesday, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The total amount of the grants is about $220 million.

Seven of those states, but not New Mexico, have signed onto a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court recently said it will take up the court challenge next year.

About 450,000 New Mexicans – nearly one in every four state residents – are currently uninsured. By 2020, the state estimates, 250,000 residents will be insured through the health exchange.

The health exchange will have to be certified by January 2013, according to the Human Services Department. It’s scheduled to begin enrolling people by October 2013.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal

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