SANTA FE (KRQE) - New Mexicans can begin taking advantage of key portions of a federal health care law on Tuesday as the state launches a new marketplace for buying health insurance and the government-funded Medicaid program starts enrolling more low-income adults.
Under federal law, individuals and small businesses can start shopping Tuesday for health insurance from private insurers through newly created health insurance exchanges. Insurance coverage will start in January.
Although the exchange is intended as an online marketplace, New Mexicans also can enroll by telephone, in person at medical clinics and other sites and by mail.
Enrollment also starts Tuesday for an expansion of Medicaid that also takes effect in January. The Human Services Department estimates that 133,400 low-income adults will be added to the program next year under terms of the federal Affordable Care Act. About a fourth of the state's population already receives health care through the program.
New Mexico is operating its own exchange for small businesses but is initially relying on a federal website for enrolling individuals. However, individuals can go to the New Mexico exchange's website and be automatically linked to the federal site.
The Spanish language version of the New Mexico exchange also is ready, but it will be several weeks before the Spanish version of the federal government's exchange can handle online enrollments.
"We're all set to go here in New Mexico," said Dr. J. R. Damron, a Santa Fe physician and chairman of the exchange's governing board.
The state will have a toll-free telephone call center to provide assistance, even for New Mexicans who encounter problems with the federal website. The call center begins operations at 8 a.m. Tuesday at 1-855-99NMHIX, which is 1-855-996-6449.
Although Damron is optimistic about the state's exchange, he's concerned about the federal website that's handling exchange responsibilities for three dozen states, including New Mexico.
"I worry that their system will crash," Damron said.
It's estimated that more than 80,000 New Mexicans will gain health care through the exchange next year. Tax credits are available to certain individuals and businesses to help lower the cost of health care plans they buy from private insurers.
Individuals seeking insurance through the exchange will be checked to determine if they qualify for Medicaid. They will be enrolled in the program now if they meet current income eligibility thresholds or they'll be added in January if they meet the new standards that are nearly four times higher.
Under the expansion, a single adult can qualify for Medicaid if they have income up to $15,288 a year. It's $31,332 annually for a family of four. The state will operate a website for people to enroll in Medicaid and there will be a telephone hotline at 1-855-637-6574.
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