Governor signs health exchange bill into law

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Gov. Susana Martinez signs Senate Bill 221, establishing the state health insurance exchange, into law earlier today. Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo and the bill's primary sponsor, is at left. (Photo courtesy of Matt Kennicott/N.M. Human Services Department)

Matt Kennicott/N.M. Human Services Department

Gov. Susana Martinez signs Senate Bill 221, establishing the state health insurance exchange, into law earlier today. Sen. Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo and the bill's primary sponsor, is at left.

Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law today legislation that will create a state health exchange for New Mexico.

A cornerstone of the 2010 federal health care law, exchanges, also known as marketplaces, are meant to help reduce the number of Americans who go without health insurance. In New Mexico, by some estimates, 200,000 of the state’s more than 400,000 uninsured residents eventually could participate in New Mexico’s exchange, which is supposed to begin to enroll eligible New Mexicans beginning in October.

Senate Bill 221, sponsored by Benny Shendo, D-Jemez Pueblo, emerged after weeks of negotiations and back-room dealmaking during the 60-day legislative session that ended earlier this month. At times the negotiations faltered, leaving some state lawmakers to wonder if New Mexico might miss the chance to tailor an exchange to the needs of a state that has many challenges.

Those states judged as having not made enough progress in setting up their own state-based exchanges by late spring could confront the possibility of the federal government setting up the marketplace.

Faced with a looming deadline, state lawmakers compromised on Senate Bill 221, a deal that even some supporters acknowledged was forged out of fear of a larger federal role in setting up the exchange. Meanwhile, critics of the bill said it failed to protect consumers enough and allowed health insurers too much influence in how the marketplace will run.

If all goes according to plan, New Mexicans eligible to use the exchange can begin enrolling by October and the health insurance policies they purchase will go into effect Jan. 1, 2014. Federal subsidies should help many New Mexicans using the exchange to purchase health insurance.