New Mexico health exchange wrote letter in governor’s name

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A letter praising President Barack Obama’s health care law circulated widely in recent days and was purported to be sent by New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. But the Republican governor did not write the letter or know about it.

The head of New Mexico’s health care exchange office said Thursday her office wrote the letter without Martinez’s knowledge or approval. BeWellnm interim CEO Linda Wedeen described the letter as a rough draft that never was reviewed by the governor before it inadvertently got out and was obtained by media outlets.

A spokesman for Martinez said the governor never would have signed the document because she wants the law overturned.

The unauthorized letter was addressed to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and copied to a list of Congressional leaders, but was never sent to them.

In early December, McCarthy asked state governors and insurance commissioners for comments on the future of federal health care policy. Wedeen said that’s when New Mexico independent health exchange began proactively drafting a letter outlining the health and economic benefits of the Affordable Care Act for New Mexico and the perils of repealing it.

President-elect Donald Trump and Republicans controlling Congress are vowing to repeal and replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which has relied on mandated purchases of health insurance, greater Medicaid coverage, and other federal subsidies to reduce the ranks of the nation’s uninsured.

“A repeal of the Affordable Care Act, even if delayed, would considerably undermine the availability of affordable options for health care coverage,” said the unauthorized letter, noting that the portion of uninsured residents in New Mexico has dropped from 22 percent to 10 percent over the past three years.

Wedeen insisted the letter “wasn’t an opinion, it was a statement of how many people would be impacted” — and that she still does not know how it was released.

“Our concern is that we make a correction on what is out there,” she said.

In a statement, Martinez spokesman Chris Sanchez said the health exchange had no right to communicate the governor’s views and criticized an unnamed reporter for not vetting “what is very clearly a phony letter.”

The online news outlet Politico first reported on the unauthorized letter Wednesday, and ran an update with Martinez’s disavowal on Thursday. By then portions of the letter had been reprinted as fact by New Mexico-based media outlets.

“She never saw the letter, doesn’t agree with it, and never would have signed it,” Sanchez wrote. “Governor Martinez has made it crystal clear that she opposes Obamacare because it hurts small businesses and raises premiums on our families.”

While critical of Obamacare, Martinez signed New Mexico on to a major pillar of the act that expanded low- or no-cost Medicaid insurance to more adults. In a state of 2.1 million residents, more than 270,000 New Mexico residents have signed up for Medicaid since the state’s expansion began in January 2014.

New Mexico Insurance Superintendent John Frachini said the release of the letter by the health exchange was likely a “naive mistake.” His agency is working on an analysis of health insurance options to share with the governor before sending to Congress ahead of a mid-January deadline.