Insurance coverage

NM eyes $92 million health insurance coverage plan

Booths line a wall during a beWellnm open registration event last year at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces. (Courtesy of beWellnm)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers are weighing a request to draw $92 million from a newly created fund to help expand health insurance coverage and reduce costs for low-income people and others.

The proposal comes as New Mexico prepares for at least 80,000 people to be kicked out of Medicaid when the federal government lifts a COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The funding – sought by the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance – would support ongoing efforts to reduce insurance costs for small businesses and their employees and for people who purchase coverage through the state exchange.

Some of the money would also go towards providing coverage options for people and families who aren’t otherwise eligible or can’t afford health insurance.

A coalition of groups that advocate for low-income families, Native Americans and immigrants on Wednesday called on lawmakers to support the full $92 million request.

Alex Williams of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, one of the advocacy groups, said the coalition wanted to make sure the entire request was dedicated to its purpose, and not diverted for other purposes.

The $92 million would come from the Health Care Accessibility Fund, which was created last year with proceeds from a state health insurance tax.

“We need every dollar from the fund to be spent on making health care more affordable,” Williams said.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz Y Pino, D-Albuquerque, speaks during a press conference in April 2016. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

On Wednesday, Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal presented the budget request to members of the Legislative Finance Committee.

“We have an essential role in protecting New Mexicans,” he said.

Toal said the funding is especially important given that 80,000 to 90,000 New Mexicans could lose their Medicaid eligibility next year — possibly April — if a federal emergency declaration expires, as expected.

Federal legislation in response to the pandemic limited when states could kick people out of Medicaid during the emergency.

The new fund, in any case, is already having an impact. In July, for example, money from the Health Care Affordability Fund began cutting premiums for small businesses and their employees.

State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, a Democrat from Albuquerque and chairman of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, joined the coalition of advocacy groups in support of the requested spending.

“We all benefit when someone can access health care,” Ortiz y Pino said. “It’s not a luxury. It’s a necessity.”