ALBUQUERQUE — With less than 10 days for state residents to enroll in health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act, the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange still hopes to give uninsured people more time to sign up.
At its meeting Friday, the board expressed an appetite for the extension, even though an emergency meeting next week would be necessary to accomplish it before the federally imposed enrollment period closes March 31.
“We are in a rather heated discussion with [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] as to who has the authority to determine our open enrollment period,” said Aaron Ezekiel, a member of the exchange board and director of Affordable Care Act implementation at the state Office of the Superintendent of Insurance.
An informal poll of the exchange board yielded no objections to prolonging the enrollment period. But board Chairman Dr. J.R. Damron said he wants to be certain the federal government won’t deny New Mexicans subsidies or tax benefits based on decisions the state makes to stray from federal guidelines.
Ezekiel said it could take weeks to hear whether the federal government would approve an extended enrollment period. He advised the board not to wait for federal approval to adopt an extension.
“It’s clear we’ll be making some decisions with a severe lack of information no matter what we do,” he said. “We’re going to get as much as we can and move in the best possible direction.”
Damron said the federal government has indicated that it could extend the national open enrollment deadline temporarily.
“We think that the feds are probably going to extend it to April 15; that’s the feeling coming out of [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] at the moment,” he said. “Our board is in favor of enrollment throughout 2014.”
Ezekiel said the Office of the Insurance Superintendent is girding for a legal fight with the federal government over the state’s authority to extend enrollment.
“We believe as a legal matter that setting the enrollment period for this is under state authority, not federal authority,” Ezekiel said. “The feds disagree with us.”
As of March 15, 18,691 New Mexico residents had enrolled in the exchange, Ezekiel said. After already adjusting enrollment expectations for 2014 downward from 83,000 to 50,000 because of problems with the federal healthcare.gov portal, the state is struggling to reach its target.
“One of our main goals is to get New Mexicans enrolled,” Damron said. “We feel like the feds let us down with the problems on their website the first two months in late 2013. It really hurt our enrollment capabilities, and we feel like this needs to be extended.”
Mike Nuñez, interim chief executive officer of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, worries that discussions about an enrollment deadline extension will prevent some people from signing up for insurance before March 31.
“The deadline is still March 31, and everybody should be taking action now,” Nuñez said. “If they don’t take action now, they’ll be waiting until 2015. We’ve not had any official word of an extension at this point.”
Under open-government provisions in New Mexico law, the exchange board must publicly announce any meetings where it will take action at least three days in advance. That announcement could come early next week if the board plans to extend the enrollment deadline.
Contact Patrick Malone at 986-3017 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @pmalonenm.