Medicaid Buy-in: An opportunity to improve women’s health in New Mexico

By Sydney Tellez
This appeared in the NM Political Report on March 1, 2019.

We have the opportunity in New Mexico to become a national champion for women’s healthcare by creating a Medicaid Buy-In.

This straightforward proposal, championed in the Legislature by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Debbie Armstrong, will allow some New Mexico families to pay for the trusted care that Medicaid already provides.

I know personally how Medicaid helps women and families right now. My sister-in-law was rear-ended while seven months pregnant, bringing my beautiful nephew into the world prematurely. Fortunately, they were already covered by Medicaid and didn’t have to be overly worried about the cost of care while they were frightened for their newborn son’s well being. As a result, little Bodhi is healthy–and his parents weren’t bankrupted by medical bills.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for the 190,000 New Mexicans still living without health coverage. The result? Women and families of color in underserved communities have the highest rate of maternal death and infant mortality. A Buy-in plan will substantially impact these families’ ability to access prenatal and postpartum care–especially during emergencies like the one my sister-in-law faced.

When Medicaid was enacted more than half a century ago, no one imagined that the program would become the backbone of coverage for millions of women. Today, Medicaid provides health and long-term coverage to more than 1 in 10 women in New Mexico. In fact, Medicaid covers 72 percent of all births in New Mexico, helping to deliver healthy babies and to support new moms. Medicaid is also instrumental in providing coverage essential for healthy pregnancies. It covers prenatal visits and vitamins, ultrasounds and amniocentesis, childbirth by vaginal or cesarean delivery, and 60 days of postpartum care. That’s healthcare access that women and their families can count on.

Many New Mexico women and families, however, do not qualify for Medicaid. But they still struggle to make ends meet, choosing between keeping food on the table or paying for health insurance. Additionally, the coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act can be too costly to these families because they make too much money to access the ACA premium subsidies and they make too little to be able to afford the cost of falling ill.  Still, access to healthcare is crucial for New Mexico families, especially during pregnancy and for family planning.

Under a Medicaid Buy-in plan, eligible women would have access to health services, including prenatal and postpartum care. The care that Medicaid, through a Buy-in, can provide during and after pregnancy enhances the likelihood of healthier pregnancies and better birth outcomes.

Additionally, a Medicaid Buy-in plan could benefit aging New Mexico women. For elderly women who meet income eligibility requirements, Medicaid covers high-cost services provided in a skilled nursing facility, as well as home- and community-based healthcare for women who are entitled to nursing facility services. Aging New Mexicans who do not qualify for Medicaid today, under a Buy-in system, could rely on Medicaid for healthcare related to a physical or mental disability or chronic condition, treatment for breast or cervical cancer, and even long-term care services.

New Mexico is already a frontrunner for women’s reproductive health because of our thoughtful laws to respect the personal decisions parents and families make regarding abortion. A natural next step is for New Mexico to create a Medicaid Buy-in, which would propel New Mexico to the top of the list for women’s access to healthcare overall.

New Mexico families, women and communities embody resilience in the face of adversity. With reproductive healthcare access under attack federally, New Mexicans are leading the way to protect women, families and future generations. We must take the same proactive approach to protecting women’s access to quality healthcare by creating a Medicaid Buy-in. That is why the Southwest Women’s Law Center supports a Medicaid Buy-in and urges legislators to vote for this bill that supports New Mexico women and their families.

Sydney Tellez is the Policy Advocate for the Southwest Women’s Law Center.