By Associated Press - Friday, July 25, 2014

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexicans will continue to qualify for subsidies if they buy medical insurance from a government online marketplace, a state insurance exchange official said Friday.

Conflicting federal court rulings have raised questions about the availability of subsidies when enrollment opens later this year.

New Mexico is considered a state-based exchange by federal health officials despite using a federally operated online system to enroll individuals, New Mexico Health Connections CEO Martin Hickey told fellow members of the exchange board.

New Mexico uses a state-run computer portal for enrolling small businesses and a contractor has been working since last year to upgrade the system to prepare it to handle enrolling individuals.

Hickey’s comments came before the board voted overwhelmingly to continue using the federal online system for individuals for another year. Board members said they weren’t confident the state-run computer system would be ready to operate trouble-free when the next open enrollment period starts in November.

Two federal appeals courts issued rulings this week about subsidies under the federal health care law. One decided that subsidies are available only in states running their own exchange. About three dozen states rely on the federal online system.

Another court came to the opposite conclusion, upholding subsidies nationwide.

It could be a year or more before further appeals resolve the subsidy question, and New Mexico shouldn’t be affected at least during that period, the board was told.

Board Vice Chairman Jason Sandel cautioned that it’s premature to predict what the final effect would be on in the state.

About 78 percent of New Mexicans with exchange health plans qualified for subsidies, according to the federal government. Individuals were left with an average monthly premium of $120 after tax credits averaging $214.

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