SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Susana Martinez's administration is moving ahead to establish a state-run clearinghouse to help small businesses and tens of thousands of individuals find affordable health insurance they currently lack.
A fight over the exchange, however, could break out in next year's Legislature.
Attorney General Gary King's office is reviewing whether new legislation is needed to implement a health insurance exchange or whether it can be done as the Republican governor plans, without a change in current law or legislative involvement.
The exchange is envisioned as an online shopping center for the uninsured to buy health coverage from a selection of plans offered by insurance companies with benefits tailored to New Mexico. It's to be ready to enroll people starting next October and under federal law must be fully operating by January 2014. That year, an estimated 55,000 New Mexicans may use it to enroll in an insurance plan.
Some states waited for the outcome of the presidential election to make a decision, but New Mexico has been working since last year on an exchange plan.
"Overall, we never really wavered from the idea that it needs to be a state exchange," Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier said in an interview Tuesday.
Under a 2010 law championed by President Barack Obama to expand health care coverage, states can run an exchange, leave that task to the federal government or partner with federal health officials.
"We wanted to build something that we think is unique to New Mexico and works for New Mexico," said Squier.
A fifth of the state's population lacks health care, and it's estimated as many as 250,000 New Mexicans may become eligible to buy health insurance through the exchange between 2014 and 2020.
Under the federal law, uninsured individuals and families can receive subsidies to reduce the amount they pay for insurance. Small businesses can be eligible for a tax credit to help provide medical coverage for workers.
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