Group holding meetings for public input on health care

Alisa Boswell

With the deadline for President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act approaching in January of 2013, state organizations and officials are taking a look at health care possibilities for New Mexico.

New Mexico First is holding community meetings in various locations around the state to get public input on whether a Health Insurance Exchange is right for New Mexico and if so, what kind of exchange will be right for state residents.

The next community meeting will be in Portales at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Memorial Building.

“Primarily, we’re interested in people’s input,” said Heather Balas, president of New Mexico First. “One thing we’ll ask people is what are the barriers they face now with getting coverage or keeping it. If New Mexico were to have an exchange, it would help the state to know what kind of benefits help people in New Mexico. So we’re just going to talk to people about what benefits are important to them.”

Balas said the basic idea of an exchange is a “one stop shop” for people to get their health insurance.

“People would be able to choose different health care plans which will be under the same federal program,” Balas said. “Initially, an exchange would serve individuals as well as small businesses. Because the new health care system will require people to have health benefits, an exchange is just one way they could be able to do that.”

Balas said exchange programs are geared more toward small businesses and individuals and are just one solution to health care for everyone in New Mexico.

She said the focus of the public meetings is to introduce the basic idea of an exchange.

“Theoretically, it gives you more choice. The idea is this will make it easier for those small employment groups and individuals to get insurance,” Balas said. “It’s just a couple of hours to give some input. There are lots of people from a lot of other communities in the state giving input and Portales and Clovis need to be heard too.”

New Mexico Sen. Gay Kernan of Hobbs said the state’s main priority right now is figuring out what is best for New Mexico as far as health care is concerned but there are a variety of opinions on the subject, so public input is one of the most important aspects to this.

“My opinion is we need to move forward slowly,” Kernan said. “I think as a state we need to be cautious about moving too quickly into a territory that we don’t know we’re going to need to move into. We need to make sure we know what we’re doing before we move forward with anything. That’s the question, whether we need to move forward into an exchange or not.”

Balas said although people are asked to pre-register for the meeting, walk-ins will be welcome and the meeting is free.