The high risk pool for medical insurance was meant to be health insurance of the last resort — policies for people who had no other option. For example, back in the late 1980s when the State of New Mexico adopted its high risk pool, children with cancer could not get insurance because of their pre-existing medical condition. By 2013, New Mexico had close to 10,000 people covered in their high risk pool, including people with no, or insufficient policies, who could effectively buy high risk insurance that retro-actively covered them in a crisis.
Then, along came Obamacare, and most high risk clients, people with pre-existing conditions, no longer needed to be in the pool. By 2017, the number of New Mexicans buying health insurance from the high risk pool had dropped to 2700. Who are they? Many are undocumented immigrants ineligible for Obamacare. Others are seriously ill people with long-term costs who are willing to pay the higher premiums for the high risk pool rather than go on Obamacare, because they want to keep their own doctors.
NM is one of just 9 states still operating a high risk pool, and, as is the norm for so many government services, the actual management of the operation is contracted out by competitive bidding.
Since 2009, New Mexico’s high risk pool has been managed by a company owned by 2 powerful political insiders, friends and colleagues who made their bid after leaving the Cabinet of retiring Governor Bill Richardson. Delta Consulting’s founders were Michelle Lujan Grisham, now a US Congresswoman, and the Democratic candidate for Governor of New Mexico and State Rep. Deborah Armstrong, who heads up the State Legislature’s House Health and Human Services Committee. Grisham left the company 6 months after announcing her gubernatorial ambitions.
There are no complaints about how Delta Consulting ran the high risk pool. Of course, I could find no evidence that anyone has ever complained about the administration of the pool in its 30 years of existence.
The issue raised by critics, and featured in a series of articles in Politico magazine is whether – as long as there is Obamacare, there is a need to keep the pool in operation. In 2017, when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez tried to shut the high risk pool down, it was Rep. Armstrong’s committee that tabled the bill, which Politico hinted might be conflicted politics at work. Armstrong says she stayed out of the issue, and no one, including her critics have produced any evidence that’s not true.
But there is this. From 2013 to 2017 Delta was paid a bit more than $2 million, and over the same period, Michelle Lujan Grisham’s tax returns show she made $376,000 from the firm. If her partner took an equal cut, that would suggest their cost of doing business left a lot of room for profit to take home.
And that doesn’t account for the money Delta Consulting gave in political contributions to Rep. Lujan Grisham — $11,000, the maximum allowed for the 2018 election cycle. Overall, in 2017, Delta made some $20,000 in political contributions.
Is this a good deal for the taxpayers of New Mexico?
Trip Jennings runs the fine regional online news organization NM In Depth, which has for several years now, been a leading source of investigative reporting on issues relating to governance, the criminal justice system, the environment, public education and the fraying social safety net of New Mexico.