Medicaid Buy-in option already helping my family

Daisy Lira
This appeared in the Las Cruces Sun News on September 24, 2019.

I am a successful businesswoman, operating three child learning centers, and a Sunland Park City Councilor. I’m happily married, a devout Catholic and a mother of four. But until my husband started working for the City of El Paso a few weeks ago, I never had private health insurance. 

As a young, single mom, I had Medicaid. After I opened the centers and started making a small profit, they kicked us off. I thought that since I was finally making money I’d be OK. I was wrong. 

When it was absolutely necessary, I paid for doctor’s appointments out of pocket. Most of the time, I’d go to Juárez where a doctor’s visit was more affordable. Regular checkups for my kids were not an option. 

But there’s another option: Medicaid Buy-in. My fellow Sunland Park city councilors and I unanimously passed a resolution in support of it last year. The Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham have been working to put it in place. It would allow families like mine to pay monthly premiums to buy-in to the trusted, affordable care that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. 

When I met my husband, we started looking for insurance. We wanted to have more children. Obamacare wasn’t affordable. I tried to offer healthcare to my employees and myself through my business. I told them how much the center could pay and how much they would have to pay for private group insurance, but no one could afford to be covered. We all went without. 

My husband and I were thrilled to have a son. We made too much to qualify for Medicaid and still couldn’t afford private insurance. I paid out-of-pocket for my son’s urgent care visits for recurring ear infections. It was horrible to see him in pain and to scrape together the money to help him. 

When I got pregnant again, I couldn’t find a gynecologist who would accept someone without insurance. I finally went for a checkup with a doctor in El Paso. I had no idea that within a week I would miscarry. I didn’t know what was happening. I went to an urgent care that sent me to another urgent care. They told me that my body would get rid of the pregnancy. I lost that pregnancy in pain, crying with my husband. 

When I got pregnant again a year later, I was determined to get the care I needed. To pay for prenatal care, I leveraged a piece of land we bought to build a house on. Thankfully, I had a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

Now that my family has health insurance, I’ve been making all kinds of appointments for my kids. My daughter hasn’t been eating well and I take her to see a nutritionist. My son has two cysts in his stomach and I’m finally able to pay for his surgery. I even made a dentist appointment for myself. 

I’ve started speaking out about healthcare access. At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Sept.25, please join me for a screening of the film “The Providers” at the Doña Ana Community College Espina Campus, 3400 Espina St, Las Cruces, Rooms DASH 75 & 77. After the movie, there will be a discussion about healthcare in our communities. 

I’ve been waiting five years to build a home for my family on the land we bought, but doctor bills have kept that dream from happening. Maybe now that dream will come true. Maybe now, with the promise of Medicaid Buy-in families like mine won’t have to go without the care they need and deserve.

Daisy Lira is a Sunland Park city councilor.

New Mexico must take action on health care

Cecelia Fred
This appeared in the Gallup Independent on September 3, 2019.

“Always take care of each other.” That was my parents’ advice to me and my brothers and sisters before we lost them both to cancer. We took that to heart. We are in close touch to this day.

I know that of the nine of us, though, my parents were likely most worried about who would take care of me after they were gone. I’m a paraplegic, the result of an accident with a gun when I was a little girl.

When I lost my parents, I didn’t realize how hard it would become for me to access health care.

Back then, specialists from Craig Hospital, a rehabilitation hospital in Denver that helps people with spinal cord injuries, came to New Mexico to take care of me and others in the community. Those doctors taught me about my body and my injury. They helped me understand how to care for myself. They held a Spinal Clinic on the Navajo Nation to check our kidneys and bladder, and make sure we were in good health.

That’s all changed over the years.

The specialists don’t come anymore. At the Gallup Indian Medical Center, the doctors and nurses are not spinal cord specialists and don’t know how to take care of us. When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t even move the bed and I had to ring the bell all the time. The staff got frustrated with me.

I’m also under a new plan through Medicaid and I’m struggling to figure out how it works. I don’t know what services are covered. And Indian Health Services doesn’t provide the supplies I need anymore. I have to pay for my catheters out-of-pocket.

My own doctor doesn’t really know how to take care of me; I have to tell her. At least she listens. When I told one doctor that I was developing a bladder infection, he didn’t believe me. “How do you know that? You’re a paraplegic. You don’t have feeling in that part of your body.” I know how my body and I deserve to be taken seriously and cared for. Getting health care should not have to be a fight. I have two sons. Like my parents, I worry about who will take care of my children when I’m gone. I’m not worried that they won’t take care of each other; I’m worried that the health care system won’t take care of them.

With the changes in access that I’ve seen and with the high cost to just see a doctor, I worry that my sons will have to choose between buying food and getting the care they might need.

That’s why I’m fighting for change. Yes, I go up to the Fourth Floor at the hospital and complain when I can’t get services or supplies. But the fight is bigger than that. New Mexico needs a health care system that works for everyone.

Through my advocacy work with New Mexico Together for Healthcare, I am supporting the effort to bring health care to every New Mexican. A promising option – Medicaid Buy-in – received start-up funding during the last Legislative Session. I’m excited to see Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Legislature taking steps to improve health care access and to reduce costs. Medicaid Buy-in would simplify the health care system and lower costs by allowing people who make too much for Medicaid and who can’t afford private insurance to pay for the quality, trusted care Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

But, really, I don’t care what new program is put in place – Medicaid Buy-in, a public option. No matter what you call it or how the details shake out, New Mexico must take action. We need a health care system that guarantees everyone access to the care they need and deserve.

My mom and dad were right. We all need to take care of each other. But it’s not just families that need to stick together. All New Mexicans need to stand together to build a health care system that works for us all.

Join me Wednesday, Sept. 4 at 5:30 pm at the Gallup Bingo Hall and share your story at the McKinley Townhall on Health care and Disabilities. Alice Liu McCoy, Executive Director of the New Mexico Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, will attend and share updates on where the state is headed and take questions.

Let’s raise our voices, tell our stories and work together to fix our health care system.

Cecelia Fred lives in Red Rock. She is a local health care advocate and an ambassador for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Court must ensure NM kids’ right to sufficient education

By Gail Evans, Lead Attorney for plantiffs, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico
(This article appeared in the Albuquerque Journal.)

Our courts have the critical role of upholding the constitutional rights of our children. New Mexico’s Constitution guarantees children a sufficient education, one that prepares them for the rigors of college and the workforce. But for decades, our state has failed our students.

Our public education system is woefully insufficient, leading a district court to rule last July that the state is violating the constitutional rights of our students. After volumes of evidence and testimony from dozens of experts, the court found the state has not adequately invested in public education nor adopted the educational instruction and programs constitutionally required to close achievement gaps for N.M. students, especially low-income, Native American, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

The legislative process is a political one fraught with competing interests. For years, our children have been shortchanged by legislative budgets that have consistently underfunded public schools. Unfortunately, even after the court’s ruling, the Legislature this year only went part of the way in addressing the changes necessary.

While the funding allocated for public schools is higher than in recent years, it won’t even get us back to 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Like today, in 2008, our funding was insufficient and our state’s education outcomes ranked at or near the bottom nationally. Filling a hole that gets us back to 2008 levels of funding is not the investment in education our Constitution requires.

The increased funding will not be sufficient to ensure social services, counseling, health care and literacy specialists are available to all students who need them. It is not enough to cover basic instructional materials for the classroom, or to invest in our educators to attract and retain new teachers and expand their qualifications. It is not enough to ensure teaching is tailored to the unique cultural and linguistic needs of our students, including English-language learners and indigenous communities. And the transportation budget remains insufficient to ensure all students have the opportunity to participate in after-school and summer programs.

While the governor’s call for a “moonshot for education” is certainly the kind of vision we need, a moonshot requires sufficient investment of programs, services, time and money that we have yet to commit.

While it is encouraging our new governor will not appeal the Yazzie/Martinez ruling, she has now called for the court to vacate sections of the ruling. This will only further endanger our students’ life chances. The state should instead work to comply with the ruling and the Constitution; the future success of our children and New Mexico depends on it. Children should not be pawns in the political process. It is the role of the judicial branch to interpret and enforce the law. The court ruling requires us to act, mandating that we do better by our students. Our children are smart and capable, and rich in culture and diversity. We can provide an education system that serves all New Mexicans, regardless of their economic circumstances or cultural background.

I dream of a moonshot for education, too

By Wilhelmina Yazzie, lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. New Mexico lawsuit.
(This op-ed appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican)

When it comes to providing a quality education for every child in New Mexico, the stakes are too high for the “wait and see” approach the Santa Fe New Mexican takes in its recent editorial (“Educators must take the lead in reforms,” Our View, March 24).

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has said she wants a “moonshot for education.” As the lead plaintiff in the Yazzie/Martinez v. state of New Mexico lawsuit, I, too, dream of a moonshot for my children and for all of New Mexico’s children. I am of the Diné (Navajo) tribe and we view our children as “sacred.” They are the heart of our existence, and it is our responsibility to prepare them for iiná, what we call “life” in my language.

Our state constitution mandates that the state of New Mexico is responsible for providing a sufficient education for all students. The state has not followed through on its obligation, and in her court ruling on our lawsuit, Judge Sarah Singleton agreed.

The Legislature had a chance this session to change course, but it did not go nearly far enough. The funding increases for public education passed in this legislative session only serve to backfill budgets and do not even return basic school programming to 2008 levels. They will not adequately cover the critical programs needed to improve outcomes for all students — especially for our Native American children, our Latino/Hispanic children, our English language learners, our low-income children and our children with special needs.

My children’s schools do not have enough textbooks. Our teachers do not have basic classroom supplies. When it comes to testing, my children do not score at grade level, despite getting good grades and being on honor roll. My children do not receive enough academic support and resources to get them ready for these tests, and they have to pass these tests to graduate. Our schools have limited after-school programs and tutoring.

Our schools also lack one of the most important teachings for our youth — cultural and language education. It is imperative that we bring culturally relevant programs and resources into our schools, especially at a time like this. Our children are yearning for their identity and values, and others are searching for acceptance.

Being culturally connected to our language and culture help us find purpose and guidance; it gives us confidence and motivation to excel in all that we do. It also teaches our children our way of life and the meaning of our existence, gives us pride in who we are and where we come from. It also teaches non-Native children and educators our history and with that knowledge brings respect for one another and creates hózhó (peace) between all people that we interact with. That is the path to balance and harmony.

I am asking our state and our lawmakers to address all these issues; to act upon the court’s ruling and honor the constitutional rights of our students. We need pre-K for every student. We need more multilingual teachers, and they deserve better pay. All classrooms should have access to textbooks, technology and other basic resources. Our children should be our first priority. They are the next generation, and all I want is for my children, your children, our children to receive the quality education that they deserve.

To transform our public education system, it will take the dedication and cooperation of every member of our community— from tribal leaders to educators and experts to parents. We need everyone at the table if we are to succeed at what is most important to us: helping our children realize their dreams.

Medicaid buy-in will help everyone in New Mexico

Anhdao Bui / Co-Interim Director, New Mexico Asian Family Center
This appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on March 25, 2019.

There are many stories in New Mexico’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community about lives cut short by lack of access to health care. As the co-interim director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center (NMAFC), I hear these stories almost daily. Now that funding to develop a Medicaid buy-in plan has passed the Legislature, I urge Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to seize this opportunity to craft a plan that will extend coverage to all New Mexicans. AAPIs and all families need this affordable health care coverage option.

The Medicaid buy-in is an innovative idea that would allow eligible New Mexico residents to pay a reasonable monthly premium for the trusted health care coverage that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. That includes preventive care, childbirth and prenatal care, and even specialty care.

For one family that I worked with, New Mexico’s Medicaid buy-in plan is coming too late. But for so many more in our community, it will be a welcomed relief that will finally make life-saving health care affordable and accessible.

Last year, a 55-year-old grandfather came to NMAFC asking for help accessing health care. He had moved from Vietnam to Albuquerque a few years before with his wife. Their daughter had married an American man and started a family of her own here. Working and raising kids, particularly for low-income, immigrant families, can be overwhelming. A multi-generational household can help bridge gaps in childcare and income, and the daughter and son-in-law were grateful to have her parents living with them.

Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, though, the grandfather began experiencing severe headaches. Without financial resources, he was unable to access care in the United States. It wasn’t until he made a trip back to Vietnam that he went to a doctor. The news was devastating: He had brain cancer.

Back in New Mexico, he was ineligible for Medicaid because he had not been in the state for five years. Desperate to get treatment, he and his wife moved again. This time to California where he could access Medicaid. He began chemotherapy, but the treatment made him weak and, without being able to work, he couldn’t afford the cost of rent, food and basic necessities. He and his wife had to move back in with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Albuquerque. He was with his family, but he was without care.

When I started working with him through the center, he had gone many months without any treatment. He was weak, and his family was scared. I was able to get an exception for him to receive coverage through UNM Care. He briefly resumed treatment, but, I am sad to say, died a few months ago.

Timely access to affordable health care could have saved – or at the very least prolonged – this man’s life, giving him more time with his family. It is not too much to ask that our elders be able to see a doctor, and to see their grandchildren grow up.

Talk to any of the more than 40,000 AAPIs living in New Mexico and you will hear a similar story. A friend who lost a limb because she couldn’t afford medical attention until it was too late. A cousin who died from pneumonia as a result of the flu. A grandchild born prematurely due to inadequate access to prenatal care. It’s time to change the way families access health care.

With a Medicaid buy-in plan in place, New Mexicans, including those like the grandfather I worked with, will be able to get covered and get care – without fear of bankrupting themselves or their families.

We cannot change that family’s story. It’s too late. But, by adopting a Medicaid buy-in plan in New Mexico, we can provide a better quality of life for the thousands of other New Mexicans – in the Asian Pacific Islander community and around the state – who lack health care coverage.

Medicaid buy-in works for working families

By Richard Ranger
This appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on March 8, 2019

When my wife and I first got married, we didn’t have health insurance. We didn’t think we needed it. We were young and healthy. Plus, even though we both worked multiple jobs, none of our employers provided health coverage, so there wasn’t an obvious way to even get insurance.

All of that changed once we found out that we were expecting a baby.

We quickly realized that we could not afford the doctor bills. The cost of prenatal visits, prenatal vitamins and specialty care added up fast. We talked it over and decided to apply for Medicaid. Unfortunately for us — like so many other New Mexicans — we made slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid, and we certainly couldn’t afford overwhelming costs of private insurance. The premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs were just too much for our family to bear.

We had to make difficult decisions to get health coverage. We didn’t have any other options. It was clear that Medicaid was the coverage that made sense for our family because it covered all of the essential services we needed without saddling us with medical debt. Fortunately, a change in our financial situation allowed us to reapply and finally qualify for Medicaid.

Medicaid was a huge help. Doctors’ appointments were easy to make and we finally had access to quality, affordable health care. As a result, we are the proud parents of Isaak, our 6-year-old son who brings us joy every day. We are grateful that he is healthy and grateful that Medicaid helped make that happen.

As much as my family would like to pursue better economic opportunities, we worry that the high cost of health care will risk our family’s health and financial well-being. Unfortunately, in order to keep the health insurance we need, we’ve had to put off pursuing careers in our community. We aren’t being true to ourselves and working the way that we always talked about. And the only thing that’s holding us back is our need for health coverage. That’s not the way things should be.

Fortunately, there is an option to help families like ours: Medicaid buy-in. It’s a simple idea that would allow families who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and who can’t get subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act to pay reasonable monthly premiums for the quality, trusted coverage provided by Medicaid. My wife and I know how well Medicaid takes care of families. We have a strong son as proof. We would welcome the opportunity to work full time again to support our family and be able to pay for health care coverage we trust.

That’s why my whole family — even Isaak — has been speaking out at the New Mexico Legislature in support of the Medicaid Buy-in Act, House Bill 416. We know what Medicaid buy-in would mean to real New Mexico families who want to work and need access to health care. It would mean the chance to work hard, the chance to get ahead and the ability stay healthy. And that means a lot.

My wife and I have learned so much about the legislative process by volunteering with Strong Families New Mexico and speaking out on behalf of our family and those like us in our community. We’ve attended hearings, testified in committees and stayed late into the evening for important votes. I’m glad to say that the bill is moving forward in both the House and Senate. But I am also worried. We need representatives and senators to continue to support Medicaid buy-in and to pass it out of its final committees. With successful floor votes in the House and the Senate, we could send this bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she would sign it.

We want to be able to tell our son that the Legislature did the right thing and created Medicaid buy-in. New Mexico working families need a health care solution that works for them — the Medicaid buy-in.

Richard Ranger lives in Gallup.

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.

Op-Ed: Underfunding Medicaid is a Foolish Decision

shutterstock baby with doctor for website -2015-12-17by Abuko Estrada & Sireesha Manne

Originally published in the Albuquerque Journal, September 26, 2016. https://www.abqjournal.com/852766/underfunding-medicaid-is-a-foolish-decision.html

As taxpayers, we expect that when government spends our money it will be leveraged toward the best investments that provide the most benefits to our state.

Currently, New Mexico receives four dollars in federal funds for every state dollar invested in Medicaid. This money goes directly into patient care and supports over 50,000 mostly private-sector jobs in the state.

Rather than maximizing this $4 to $1 return on investment, New Mexico underfunded the Medicaid budget in the 2016 legislative session.

For fiscal year 2017, New Mexico is losing over $265 million in federal matching funds for Medicaid by failing to come up with $67 million to meet Medicaid’s minimum budget needs. Our health care system is taking a massive financial loss of over $330 million this year — or nearly $1 million a day!

This is a budgeting disaster for New Mexico that is expected to result in thousands of jobs being lost and, worse yet, a reduction in care to patients. Health care had been one of the only growing job sectors in the state because of the expansion of Medicaid that has added over 4,800 jobs in 2014 alone. However, due to budget shortfalls, the state has decided to reduce Medicaid payment levels for hospitals, doctors and other medical practitioners.

In response, health care providers have issued serious warnings that the low Medicaid rates will force them to downsize staff and potentially even close entire facilities.

The decision to cut Medicaid is self-defeating because New Mexico desperately needs jobs and a stronger health care system.

Nearly every county in the state – 32 out of 33 counties – has shortages for primary care, dental care and mental health care. The problems are most severe for patients in rural areas, where over 30 percent of residents live.

A prime example of health care workforce shortages is the closing of the obstetrics department at Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas, N.M. Since 2010, three other hospitals have ceased their obstetric services, forcing expectant mothers to travel unreasonable distances for prenatal care.

Medicaid patients face the most serious consequences of these shortages. The Legislative Finance Committee recently found that up to half of providers in some areas in New Mexico are refusing to take new Medicaid patients.

Another report has found that a quarter of Dona Aña County residents needing hospitalization are going to Texas to get services. However, as illustrated in a recent news article, many doctors in Texas now refuse to see these patients because our state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low.

This is just the beginning.

Medicaid provides health care coverage to two out of three children in New Mexico, as well as seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families. However, due to Medicaid budget shortfalls, the state next plans to cut health care benefits and charge higher patient fees.

Studies have shown that these changes are likely to result in massive losses of coverage for low-income families and will prevent patients from accessing needed services, only deepening New Mexico’s health care crisis.

New Mexico needs to responsibly maximize Medicaid matching funds. The first step is to fix the state’s revenue system. New Mexico is losing needed dollars to tax cuts and loopholes created in the last 15 years for large corporations and the highest-income earners, which have not proven to produce jobs or benefit the state.

There are several ways to raise revenues without hurting working families, such as freezing corporate tax rates at their current levels, which are now on par with other states and further reductions are not needed, taxing capital gains and investment income at the same rate as earned income and targeting products that are undertaxed and that are not necessities, such as new vehicles, alcohol and tobacco.

By not acting, New Mexico is losing precious resources that our state needs to spur job growth and support our health care infrastructure. Let’s put our money into our wisest investments – Medicaid is certainly one of the best.

Op-Ed: State’s decision to cut Medicaid is self-defeating

by Abuko Estrada and Sireesha Manne

Originally published September 19, 2016, NMPolitics.net http://nmpolitics.net/index/2016/09/states-decision-to-cut-medicaid-is-self-defeating/

COMMENTARY: As taxpayers, we expect that when government spends our money it will be leveraged toward the best investments that provide the most benefits to our state. Currently, New Mexico receives four dollars in federal funds for every state dollar invested in Medicaid. This money goes directly into patient care and supports over 50,000 jobs in the state, mostly in the private sector.

Rather than maximizing this $4-to-$1 return on investment, New Mexico underfunded the Medicaid budget in the 2016 legislative session.

For fiscal year 2017, New Mexico is losing over $265 million in federal matching funds for Medicaid by failing to come up with $67 million to meet Medicaid’s minimum budget needs. Our health-care system is taking a massive financial loss of over $330 million this year – or nearly $1 million a day!

This is a budgeting disaster for New Mexico that is expected to result in thousands of jobs being lost and, worse yet, a reduction in care to patients. Health care had been one of the only growing job sectors in the state because of the expansion of Medicaid, which added over 4,800 jobs in 2014 alone.

However, due to budget shortfalls, the state has decided to reduce Medicaid payment levels for hospitals, doctors and other medical practitioners. In response, health-care providers have issued serious warnings that the low Medicaid rates will force them to downsize staff and potentially even close entire facilities.

The decision to cut Medicaid is self-defeating because New Mexico desperately needs jobs and a stronger health-care system. Nearly every county in the state – 32 out of 33 counties – have shortages for primary care, dental care, and mental health care. The problems are most severe for patients in rural areas, where over 30 percent of residents live.

A prime example of health-care workforce shortages is the closing of the obstetrics department at Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas. Since 2010, three other hospitals have ceased their obstetric services, forcing expectant mothers to travel unreasonable distances for prenatal care.

Medicaid patients face the most serious consequences of these shortages. The Legislative Finance Committee recently found that up to half of providers in some areas in New Mexico are refusing to take new Medicaid patients.

Another report has found that a quarter of Dona Aña County residents needing hospitalization are going to Texas to get services. However, as illustrated in a recent news article, many doctors in Texas are now refusing to see these patients because our state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates are too low.

This is just the beginning. Medicaid provides health-care coverage to two out of three children in New Mexico, as well as seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families. However, due to Medicaid budget shortfalls, the state next plans to cut health-care benefits and charge higher patient fees.

Studies have shown that these changes are likely to result in massive losses of coverage for low-income families and will prevent patients from accessing needed services, only deepening New Mexico’s health-care crisis.

New Mexico needs to responsibly maximize Medicaid matching funds. The first step is to fix the state’s revenue system. New Mexico is losing needed dollars to tax cuts and loopholes created in the last 15 years for large corporations and the highest income earners, which have not proven to produce jobs or benefit the state.

There are several ways to raise revenues without hurting working families, such as freezing corporate tax rates at their current levels, which are now on par with other states and further reductions are not needed; taxing capital gains and investment income at the same rate as earned income; and targeting products that are being under-taxed and that are not necessities, such as new vehicles, alcohol and tobacco.

By not acting, New Mexico is losing precious resources that our state needs to spur job growth and support our health-care infrastructure. Let’s put our money into our wisest investments – Medicaid is certainly one of the best.

Abuko Estrada and Sireesha Manne are attorneys with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Medicaid a Bright Spot in a Dismal Economy

Republished with permission by the New Mexico Political Report. To see the original article, follow: http://nmpoliticalreport.com/20757/medicaid-a-bright-spot-in-a-dismal-economy/

Abuko-2015-09-23By Abuko Estrada, Healthcare Staff Attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

Since 2008, it has been gloomy in New Mexico. Our state is still recovering from the Great Recession. Our job growth has been among the worst in the nation, leaving us well short of pre-recession job levels. We are the only state in the nation where more people are moving out than moving in.

Our economic forecast still looks dismal.

There has, however, been one ray of sunshine–our healthcare sector is growing and over two hundred thousand New Mexicans have financial relief due to Medicaid expansion.

Now that we finally see a bright spot, let’s not ruin a good thing.

When New Mexico expanded Medicaid in 2014, our state had many reasons to celebrate. Polls showed overwhelming public support for Medicaid, with most voters in favor of Medicaid expansion and opposed to making cuts to the program.

The skyrocketing uninsured rate was taking its toll, leaving people without treatment or forcing families into medical debt and even bankruptcy. Medicaid expansion has meant that over 220,000 more New Mexican adults have health care coverage. This expansion of adult coverage also helped capture more uninsured children, reducing that rate by almost 16 percent during the first year alone.

New Mexicans knew that Medicaid expansion would boost job growth. In fact, the health care industry is driving job growth for our state. According to the Legislative Council Service, health care jobs have accounted for 56 percent of the new jobs over the last year.

We knew that Medicaid expansion would reduce costs for hospitals and healthcare providers, allowing them to invest in new facilities and their workforce. New Mexico’s 28 hospitals have already seen a 30 percent drop in the uncompensated care of uninsured patients from 2014. Our federally-qualified health centers, which have generally operated under budget deficits due to uncompensated care, had net income of $1.8 million dollars in fiscal year 2014. According to the New Mexico Primary Care Association, the better financial picture will allow the health centers to raise provider pay and increase capacity around the state.

We knew that Medicaid expansion would lead to economic relief for our families. In the past, people were routinely sent to collections for medical bills they could not pay. Healthcare coverage through Medicaid gives families more disposable income and the ability to build assets rather than struggle with debt. Every taxpayer also paid for state and county funds for hospitals to treat uninsured patients.

Finally, we knew that Medicaid expansion would be good for state revenue by injecting over $1 billion non-state dollars into the economy each year, primarily into the private sector, and increasing insurance taxes. In fiscal year 2014, The Department of Finance and Administration says New Mexico collected $115 million in insurance taxes. Economists with the Legislative Finance Committee estimate that number will grow to $247 million dollars by 2020.

For the first three years of expansion, we got all of these benefits at no cost to the state. In 2017, we will only pay 5 cents on the dollar, while the federal government takes on 95 percent of costs. After 2020, we will pay no more than one dime for every dollar to maintain these benefits. The insurance tax on Medicaid managed care companies retrieves 4 of these cents – canceling out nearly all of the State’s costs in upcoming years.

Still, some policymakers question the value of expansion and would like to cut support for the program.

It would be wrong to reverse course now and dump one of New Mexico’s best investments. Our state could lose hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in economic activity.

Every dollar lost would damage our health care industry and workforce, stunting the driving sector for our job growth. Halting this growth could prove disastrous for our rural areas, which already face provider shortages. It would become more difficult to attract providers and build capacity.

New Mexico can only move forward if we capitalize on what we have. When the weather is finally breaking, let’s not take it for granted. By making the right choice to fully fund and support Medicaid, we can invest in a brighter future.