- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange is refusing to give commercial insurance companies personal information from thousands of the state’s poor residents.

Health exchange lawyers recently decided that names, home addresses and phone numbers were proprietary and have denied requests from insurance companies seeking to obtain the information, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported (http://goo.gl/XlHD36).

Insurance companies sought the data to sell those residents policies.

“We are not allowed to share that information directly with them,” Debra Hammer, spokeswoman for the exchange, said last week.

New Mexico is relying on a federally operated website to enroll individuals. Businesses can enroll through the state-run exchange, which also handles marketing and provides assistance to people seeking insurance coverage.

The policies of about 10,400 people formerly insured under the low-cost State Covered Insurance program were canceled when it was discontinued in January, and they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

The New Mexico Human Services Department referred them to the state’s online insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act.

During the most recent meeting of the exchange board on Feb. 28, board member Martin Hickey lobbied for the release of contact information to the insurers.

“My sense is that were the carriers able to also have that information so that they could make direct contact, you’d have many more people signing up .,” said Hickey, chief executive officer of New Mexico Health Connections, a nonprofit that sells insurance. “We’re really way behind other states, so I would encourage you to share that information with each carrier on the exchange, since time is short, ASAP.”

The open enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act ends March 31, and enrollment at the end of January stood at 11,620 - far below the targeted goal of 50,000, which was adjusted down from the original projection of 83,000 after the federal online portal at healthcare.gov stumbled out of the gate last fall.

But exchange board member Patsy Romero bristled at the prospect of handing over information about clients of a government-run insurance program to private companies.

“I would just caution you that you need to be careful,” Romero said. “You need to respect people’s privacy.”

Sidonie Squire, secretary of the New Mexico Human Services Department, agreed with Romero that the board’s lawyers should review the legality of releasing personal information to insurance companies, but she said she personally had no objections to providing the data to insurers.