SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A proposal to create a state-operated health insurance exchange is heading to the Senate with bipartisan support, including from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.
Supporters said Saturday the latest proposal was a compromise that will allow New Mexico to meet a deadline for having an exchange ready to enroll uninsured New Mexicans in October and be fully operating by January.
The exchange is to serve as an online shopping center for uninsured people and small businesses to buy health coverage from private insurance companies. The goal is to make it easier for consumers to shop for insurance by comparing prices and benefits.
Under a federal health care overhaul, states had the option of establishing their own exchange or leaving it to the federal government. Nearly 200,000 New Mexicans may be able to buy health insurance through the exchange by 2020.
“I am pleased that we are now moving forward with a piece of legislation that strikes a reasonable compromise, one that has invited advocates, industry professionals, and sponsors from both sides of the aisle to help shape the future of quality health care in New Mexico,” Martinez said in a statement. “Our state’s health insurance exchange will provide the maximum number of choices to New Mexicans when it comes to selecting a health care plan that fits their needs.”
Democratic Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., of Jemez Pueblo helped negotiate the compromise with the Martinez administration, Democrats and Republicans.
“We could perfect this thing to death and not have an exchange,” said Shendo. “If we don’t get something, the feds will take over.”
A proposal by Shendo and Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, unanimously cleared a final Senate committee on Friday and is headed to the 42-member Senate for consideration.
The measure faces a tight deadline for winning approval of the Senate and then the House. Lawmakers adjourn in a week.
Rep. Tom Taylor, a Farmington Republican involved in the negotiations, said the bill “has a very good chance of flying” through the Legislature.
A health exchange measure stalled in the House late last month after initially being rejected on a 39-30 vote, with eight Democrats opposing it. The measure was revived but lawmakers haven’t attempted to advance it again. Critics said it would overly regulate the health insurance plans that could be offered to New Mexicans.
Instead, the Senate proposal was hammered out.
The legislation creates the framework for an exchange governed by a 13-member board. The state superintendent of insurance is a member. The governor will appoint six board directors and six will be selected by legislative leaders. Among the board members are insurance industry representatives, a consumer advocate and health care provider.
Unlike the House measure, the latest proposal doesn’t grant board members the power to exclude health insurance plans from being offered on the exchange if they meet qualifying standards and comply with the federal health care law. The governor wanted a “free market” exchange that will offer all insurance plans meeting basic qualifications.
The governor has taken steps to establish an exchange operated by the New Mexico Health Insurance Alliance, a nonprofit public corporation established in 1994. But Democrats, including Attorney General Gary King, contend the Legislature needs to change state law for the organization to handle duties of the exchange mandated by a federal health care overhaul.
Martinez said the legislation “continues down the road of the exchange structure that we have already begun to implement, which has received conditional approval from the Obama administration.”