Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION&WORLD -

Rep. Deb­bie Arm­strong said Delta Con­sult­ing Group op­er­ates the of­fice of the high-risk pool and over­sees its ad­min­is­tra­tor, a com­pany called Ben­e­fit Man­age­ment, Inc.

“We’re the staff of the pool,” Arm­strong said, re­fer­ring to her­self, as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, and one other full-time em­ployee and a part-time em­ployee who han­dles IT.

“The ex­per­tise that Delta brings to the New Mex­ico Med­i­cal In­surance Pool is in­valu­able,” Michelle Lu­jan Gr­isham spokesman James Hal­li­nan said.

In­creased com­pen­sa­tion for Delta even as the pool’s mem­ber­ship has shrunk — a point of crit­i­cism from Lu­jan Gr­isham’s op­po­nents — re­flects a shift in what the board asked Arm­strong to do, pool board mem­ber John Arango said.

“The job of the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in­creased be­cause one of the tasks the board had given them was to ac­tively con­tact pol­i­cy­hold­ers who, in the opin­ion of the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, could move over to the [Af­ford­able Care Act] and coun­sel them on the ad­van­tages of mov­ing over,” he said. “The func­tions in­creased even though mem­ber­ship de­creased.”

Arm­strong and Lu­jan Gr­isham have said the pool still plays an im­por­tant role. Asked whether it would al­ways ex­ist, Arm­strong said not nec­es­sar­ily.

“I think the goal for the pool would be to be not needed,” she said. “If there was no need for a safety net, and all cir­cum­stances were taken care of, then they wouldn’t need to be there. And if ev­ery­one was elect­ing to move out and could get other cov­er­age, that would be fine. The pool doesn’t ex­ist to just main­tain it­self.”

best guilty of con­flicts of in­ter­est and should drop out of the race.

In re­sponse to the mount­ing at­tacks about her busi­ness prac­tices, Lu­jan Gr­isham re­leased five years of per­sonal in­come tax re­turns and earned 66 per­cent of the pri­mary vote, beat­ing Apo­daca by 44 points.

She had di­vested from Delta in the sum­mer of 2017. Ac­cord­ing to her con­gres­sional fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sure forms, the amount of the di­vesti­ture was be­tween $100,000 to $250,000. (Con­gres­sional dis­clo­sure forms re­quire only a range rather than an ex­act amount.)

Still, her crit­ics have sought to raise ques­tions about the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of the pool, and Delta’s role with it — plus the pres­ence of state Rep. Deb­bie Arm­strong, D-Al­bu­querque, the sec­ond Delta co-founder who served as Lu­jan Gr­isham’s cam­paign trea­surer and is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the high-risk pool.

One Pearce tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tise­ment said Delta was “over­charg­ing” and “fleec­ing” its ill cus­tomers, point­ing out its pre­mi­ums are 10 per­cent above the mar­ket rate. The same ad ac­cused Lu­jan Gr­isham’s “top cronies” of seek­ing to “bury ev­i­dence” of what a re­cent email blast from Ryan Can­gi­olosi, chair­man of the Repub­li­can Party of New Mex­ico, called her “shady busi­ness deal.”

Arm­strong said there was no po­lit­i­cal pull ex­er­cised in Delta win­ning the con­tracts to pro­vide ser­vices for the pool, as has been al­leged by Pearce and other crit­ics in the wake of the Politico story, or in the ex­is­tence of the pool even in the Oba­macare era.

Through a spokes­woman, the state su­per­in­ten­dent of in­surance, John Fran­chini, who chairs the high-risk pool’s board, said this week there was noth­ing un­to­ward about the com­pet­i­tive bid­ding pro­cesses.

John Arango, a mem­ber of the pool’s board since 1992, said the pool needs to re­main in place to ser­vice groups of peo­ple who still can­not find in­surance. He men­tioned pa­tients un­der age 65 who can­not buy sup­ple­men­tal

Medi­care in­surance for spe­cific pro­ce­dures such as dial­y­sis, and pa­tients who miss the an­nual en­roll­ment pe­riod or find them­selves need­ing a pol­icy be­tween en­roll­ment win­dows.

If cur­rent pro­tec­tions for pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions are wiped out by a suc­cess­ful 20-state chal­lenge to the Af­ford­able Care Act, Arango added, the pool’s en­roll­ment could quin­tu­ple.

“All along [the board has] said, ‘We need to stay in op­er­a­tion be­cause of the tur­moil in the mar­ket,’ ” he said. “One thing we can say to peo­ple in New Mex­ico is: If you need health in­surance, and you can’t buy it any­where else, we will sell you a pol­icy. Our rates are high be­cause you have an ex­pen­sive med­i­cal con­di­tion, but de­pend­ing on your in­come, we may be able to give you up to a 75 per­cent dis­count.”

The board of the high-risk pool, not Delta, de­ter­mines the rates, ac­cord­ing to state statute.

Arango said Lu­jan Gr­isham, while a coowner un­til last sum­mer, played no role in Delta op­er­a­tions since her elec­tion to Congress in 2012 and coun­tered the Pearce claim that Delta had won a “gov­ern­ment con­tract.”

The pool, per state statute, is a non­profit en­tity, and it re­ceives no state ap­pro­pri­a­tions, Arm­strong said.

Lu­jan Gr­isham earned be­tween $180,000 and $400,000 in in­come from Delta be­gin­ning in 2013 through last year, the an­nual fi­nan­cial dis­clo­sures show.

When Lu­jan Gr­isham re­leased five years of tax re­turns ear­lier this year, re­porters flagged that her 2013 re­turn showed $138,000 in “pas­sive in­come” from Delta. On that year’s con­gres­sional dis­clo­sure form, how­ever, she re­ported only $50,000 to $100,000 in Delta in­come. A Lu­jan Gr­isham spokesman said at the time the un­der­state­ment of in­come was an “hon­est mis­take.”

Pearce, mean­while, has said he will re­lease his 2017 tax re­turn but is be­ing “held up” as sev­eral com­pa­nies filed for ex­ten­sions to Oct. 15. He has been re­ported to be one of the rich­est mem­bers of Congress.

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