SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico has received a nearly $19 million federal grant to market its health insurance exchange to uninsured individuals and businesses and to educate them about their options in the state's online marketplace.
The exchange, which is envisioned as a one-stop, online shopping center for insurance, expects to enroll more than 80,000 uninsured New Mexicans in insurance plans next year and up to 211,000 people by 2020.
However, the exchange faces rapidly approaching deadlines under federal law to begin enrollment in October and to be fully operating in January.
Because of a lack of time to fully implement its computer system, New Mexico plans to initially rely on a federally operated exchange to enroll individuals in health care insurance offered by private companies but use the state-run system for businesses.
A key to the exchange's potential success is reaching out to potential customers: the more than 400,000 uninsured New Mexicans and businesses that don't provide insurance to their workers.
The exchange has solicited bids from companies for advertising, education and public relations but hasn't awarded a contract yet.
Applications also have been requested from organizations, including nonprofits and trade associations, to implement outreach programs and provide in-person assistance to those seeking health insurance through the exchange.
Jason Sandel, vice chairman of the exchange's 13-member governing board, said New Mexico faces challenges serving people in rural areas that lack Internet service and dealing with uninsured people who aren't computer savvy.
"What I continue to hear is that it's incumbent upon the exchange to ensure that we have boots on the ground in rural communities across the state in a culturally sensitive kind of way. So if we're going into a Native American community we need to be speaking with and through Native Americans and telling Native American stories and why it's important for Native Americans to access health insurance," Sandel said.
"And I think that effort is going to have to be expanded over what was originally conceptualized," he said. "And frankly putting together that type of an effort in the very short amount time that we have to put it together is darn near an impossibility."
The state had requested a $20 million grant from the federal government for promoting the exchange and its insurance options to New Mexicans. However, $18.6 million was approved earlier this month because of the government's mandatory, across-the-board spending cuts, according to the state Human Services Department.
Under a preliminary budget prepared for the grant request, the exchange expected to spend about $13 million for marketing and education, including about $6 million for local events in partnership with counties, schools, universities, community-organizations, business and religious groups. Of that $13 million, $1 million was for outreach for Native Americans, such as efforts in Navajo Nation chapter houses, and $4 million was for advertising on television, radio, billboards and social media marketing.
The exchange budgeted another $6 million to contract with two organizations to implement the in-person assistance programs. Those vendors are expected to subcontract with community-based groups to provide the "navigators" and "assisters" — as they are known under the Affordable Care Act — to guide the uninsured through the insurance enrollment process.
"Our goal is enroll 84,000 in the first year and our efforts have to reflect that goal," Sandel said. "We're a little bit behind the eight ball is the way I would put it by way of time."
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