Due to changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, the UNM Hospital has decided to extend the availability of the UNM Care Program for another year.

At a UNMH Board of Directors meeting on Friday, UNMH CEO Steve McKernan said thousands of New Mexicans were affected by the Affordable Care Act. He said the hospital is extending the program to accommodate these changes.

“We’re going to extend the UNM Care Program effectively in its current form until Dec. 31 (2014) for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid,” he said. “The pickup on exchanges is so low … We were told that there are at least 30,000 people in the state of New Mexico with non-qualifying insurance plans that lost their insurance on Dec. 31 (2013).”

According to the UNMH website, UNM Care “is a health care assistance program that provides quality medical care to qualified Bernalillo County residents.” It can provide either primary or supplementary health insurance for people who don’t qualify for Medicaid, based on a person’s deductible.

Last year Gov. Susana Martinez announced a plan that would expand Medicaid coverage to about 170,000 adults in the state by 2020.

As a result, about 80 percent of UNM Care recipients are expected to be absorbed through the expansion, McKernan said. He said that at the moment, there is “a gigantic influx of people who need to get to Medicaid” from UNM Care.

But at the moment, only a small number of UNM Care recipients who became eligible for Medicaid at the beginning of this year due to the ACA have applied, McKernan said. He said it might be because of the hassle in doing so.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of very nervous people,” he said. “They have to get an application to Medicaid, to file for Medicaid.”

McKernan said UNMH hired additional employees to help eligible UNM Care recipients transfer to Medicaid.

“We hired about 20 people who helped with eligibility,” he said. “We are backed up a bit on that, but we’re processing people through and working to get those eligible for the Medicaid system … We’re working very closely with our population for Medicaid.”

But because a state worker has to approve applicants’ paperwork before they officially receive Medicaid, the entire transfer process of UNM Care recipients might take up to three months, McKernan said. Recipients can still benefit from the program during this period, he said.

McKernan said UNM Care recipients and applicants should provide a formal proof of Medicaid denial to qualify for the program for the rest of the year.

“You have to apply for Medicaid and get a denial to be eligible for UNM Care,” he said. “If they get denied for Medicaid, we line them up to be eligible for UNM Care, but we won’t actually process them, block them, give them UNM Care status and offer them financial assistance until we see the form that says they’re denied.”

Reginald Heber Fitz Hall

At the same meeting, the board of directors unanimously approved to rename the School of Medicine’s Basic Medical Sciences Building to Reginald Heber Fitz Hall.

UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth said the process aims to honor Reginald Heber Fitz, one of the first employees of the School of Medicine.

“The very first dean who was hired in 1960 to develop the School of Medicine came out of the University of Colorado,” he said. “He was brought in to develop the proposal that ultimately went to the Legislature. He passed away this past year.”

UNM President Robert Frank said the renaming process passed through a naming committee before it went into the hands of the board of directors. He said Heber Fitz met the criterion of having “a distinguished contribution to the University.”

Roth said the renaming process will kick off the celebration of the School of Medicine’s 50th anniversary this year.