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.