Hospital CEO concerned about health exchange costs

Roosevelt General Hospital CEO Larry Leaming says the ultimate goal of a state-run health exchange is to get uninsured people in New Mexico health coverage.

But with that goal in mind, Leaming says it's not clear how the state will achieve that goal while making health care affordable.

"Well if we're going to have an exchange, we should be the ones to design it," Leaming said. "I'm very much opposed to governmental bureaucracy. Even good ideas can turn into regulations."

Leaming sits on the board of directors for the state's new Health Insurance Exchange at the request of Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. Leaming is one member of the 13-member board. The exchange is to serve as a marketplace for the uninsured to buy medical coverage.

Ingle felt it imperative that Leaming represent rural hospitals on the board because he says they are run much differently than hospitals in big cities and a voice needs to be given to Roosevelt County and communities like it.

"We're a unique hospital, we need a voice in the health exchange," Ingle said. "We need a wide opinion and (Leaming) needs to be there to speak up for rural hospitals."

Leaming says concepts such as not excluding people from health care with pre-existing conditions and an emphasis on preventative care, are good in theory but isn't sure how it can be written into a plan that will still be affordable to New Mexicans.

"Quite frankly, I'm concerned about costs," Leaming said. "What's in there that will make it cost effective? I hope there are insurance companies out there that can put forward an affordable product."

He says the plan must be approved by October and the health exchange has to be ready to launch by January 2014.

"We're just right now working on the plan of operations," Leaming said.

Leaming is also concerned about make health care accessible to locals who may not be able to drive to Albuquerque or another city with a larger hospital for certain needs.

"That's going to be the biggest barrier," Leaming said. "If they can't afford it, they can't buy it."

Leaming ultimately wants to keep a watchful eye while on the board but still maintains hope that an effective exchange can be created.

"If it can help meet the needs of the people who don't have access now, that's wonderful," Leaming said.

Leaming and Ingle say they don't have a clue how much this will cost the average New Mexican or a concept of the range in costs for premiums.

"This whole thing is a piled-up mess," Ingle said. "But it's a good board and I hope that they figure something out because they're the ones that have to make it work."

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