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NM Business Weekly

New Mexico’s business and health care leaders seemed to be relieved that some clarity and certainty has been brought to the health care debate – at least for now.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act on Thursday will last through at least the November presidential election. If Republican Mitt Romney wins, things could change again, they said.

But the decision brought relief in that it provided some certainty.

“The good news is that at least part of this has been answered in the short term,” said Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. “Business continues to be concerned about rising health care costs, and this decision won’t solve that issue.”

Beverlee McClure, president and CEO of the New Mexico Chapter of the Association of Commerce and Industry, also said that businesses were relieved by the clarity.
“Businesses were waiting to see what would happen, and now they know what to expect,” McClure said.

Jim Hinton, president and CEO of Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said the clarity offered by the Supreme Court’s decision “will be in effect at least throughout the November election.” He said the decision “sent a signal that what a lot of systems like ours have been doing around transforming health care, and to be able to take care of more people more efficiently, has been the right investment.”

New Mexico’s health insurers didn’t have much more to say about the 5-4 decision because it didn’t change anything for them. Had the Supreme Court overturned the law, the insurers would have had to abandon two years worth of work and planning.

A prepared statement from Kurt Shipley, president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, pretty much summed up the insurers’ positions, or non-positions.

“At Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, we remain committed to providing affordable care choices, exceptional services and critical information for our members,” Shipley said.

Ben Slocum, CEO of the 240,000-member Lovelace Health Plan, said that nothing much will happen because of the law for consumers the rest of the year. Health insurers and health care providers will have to work to standardize health information about patients so it can be shared across different systems and providers.

Some people have questioned whether the health care system has enough doctors, nurses, hospitals and clinics to absorb 30 million new customers who will have health insurance as of Jan. 1, 2014. The same question has been asked of New Mexico’s health care system because the state has 440,000 uninsured residents.

Lovelace Health System CFO Steve Forney said the system has plenty of resources. It’s not like those 440,000 uninsured haven’t been receiving care. It’s just that they’ve been waiting until they get real sick and then seeking care in emergency rooms, care for which hospitals don’t get paid, Forney said.

“Last year, our delivery system spent $78 million in uncompensated care, so there are a lot of resources that are already being provided,” Forney said.

Getting most of those 440,000 insured will greatly reduce the amount of uncompensated care that hospitals have to eat, Forney added.

Hinton said the decision will cause Presbyterian, which operates eight hospitals in New Mexico, “to determine what additional investments we will have to make to serve those additional patients.”

What is still to be determined in New Mexico is how fast the state will move to implement its health insurance exchange, which is required by the ACA. New Mexico Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott said the department is moving quickly to get the online exchange designed and built.

New Mexico also has to determine whether to accept an expansion of the Medicaid program that is offered in the ACA. The original act said that states that did not accept Medicaid expansions would lose their existing Medicaid federal matching funds. The Supreme Court declared that threat to be unconstitutional.

Gov. Susana Martinez spokesman Scott Darnell said the state has made no decision on whether to accept the Medicaid expansion.
More than 500,000 New Mexicans are Medicaid recipients.

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