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EXCLUSIVE: Insolvent New Mexico Obamacare Co-op Boasted Six-Figure Salaries

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New Mexico Health Connections, one of the four remaining nonprofit Obamacare Co-ops, did not inform its customers in June that it was insolvent and its entire board had resigned, The Daily Caller News Foundation has learned.

It also never told its customers the nonprofit paid its executives up to $450,000 in annual salaries.

The nonprofit, one of 24 Co-op’s originally set up under Obamacare, was supposed to provide affordable health insurance to individuals, predominantly low-income citizens. The demise of the New Mexico Co-op means that only three are fully functioning.

The New Mexico Co-op boasted extraordinarily high six figure salaries per year like many other failed Obamacare nonprofits, according to a DCNF review of its 2015 tax filing Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service.

Dr. Martin Hickey, the nonprofit’s CEO, received a $450,000 salary, according to its 990. It is unclear what his compensation was in 2017 when the Co-op notified the state insurance superintendent it was insolvent.

All 12 of the nonprofit’s top staff received six-figure salaries, according to its tax filing. Joining Hickey was Chief Medical Officer Dr. Mark Epstein who received an annual salary of $413,000, Chief Operating Officer Anne Sapon who received $342,000, and Primary Care staffer Frances Torres who received $318,000.

The New Mexico Co-op burned through $77.3 million in federal loans awarded by the Obama administration’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid in 2012. The nonprofit was “bleeding about $20 million in red ink a year,” an Albuquerque Journal editorial noted.

Customers first learned in September the Co-op was facing financial difficulties. It announced an agreement to sell its small and large business policies to a for-profit company called Evolent Health for $10 million in cash.

The deal meant the insolvent nonprofit would continue serving individual customers – its most vulnerable and poorest customers. About 22,000 customers were affected.

The nonprofit’s dire financial straits were so severe its total capital and surplus were $3.5 million even after the infusion of $10 million, according to its Sept. 30 financial filings as reported by the Journal last December.

Co-op customers also weren’t informed that their insurer was insolvent and its board had resigned until after the Obamacare “open enrollment” period for 2018 had expired.

Under New Mexico law, that state can take over insurers that face financial distress. Yet, the state did not assume control of Health Connections after the resignation of its board last June, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Instead, it allowed True Health to take over the two smaller divisions and permitted the individual market customers to remain in the cash-strapped nonprofit.

Hickey, the highest paid Co-op executive, left the nonprofit and joined True Health, Evolent’s subsidiary. True Health did not respond to a DCNF inquiry about his current compensation.

Sapon, in a Linked-In posting in the first week of 2018 attempted to claim the co-op wasn’t facing any financial distress.

“The nonprofit’s leadership have continued NMHC is happy to announce that, contrary to rumors that have been circulating, the company is in a great financial position for the coming year,” she wrote. “We look forward to continuing to serve our members with the same high levels of care, expertise, and compassion that we have been providing for the past four years. We wish you a healthy and happy 2018!”

“We all wanted the company to succeed, but we were effectively insolvent in June,” said Diane Denish, a Co-op board member and New Mexico’s lieutenant governor under Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson in an interview with the Journal on Jan. 9.

Other insurance companies are facing significant losses because of the nonprofit’s insolvency. The largest creditor is Presbyterian Healthcare Services, which is owed $7.6 million. Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico said Health Connections will likely owe it several million dollars.

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Richard Pollock