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New Mexico leads nation in Medicaid health care enrollment

January 23, 2021 GMT
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In this image provided by Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, pharmacy staff members unpack the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines at the hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. The medical center was the first in New Mexico to receive doses as hospitals elsewhere around the state prepared for deliveries later this week. (Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center via AP)
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In this image provided by Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, pharmacy staff members unpack the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines at the hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. The medical center was the first in New Mexico to receive doses as hospitals elsewhere around the state prepared for deliveries later this week. (Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico has surpassed all other states in its reliance on Medicaid health care as the coronavirus wreaks economic havoc and shifts the way people receive health care, the state’s Medicaid director told a panel of lawmakers on Friday.

Residents have flocked to the federal- and state-subsidized health care program for people living in poverty or on the cusp, with 43% enrollment statewide as of November. States including Louisiana and Kentucky rely on heavily on Medicaid to insure about one-third of their populations.

Nicole Comeaux, director of the state Medicaid Assistance Division, says enrollment has grown by about 1.5% a month since the outset of the pandemic.

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That has helped deliver a windfall of federal contributions to Medicaid spending in New Mexico. The federal government provides $4.76 for every dollar in state general funds spent on the program, up from $3.65 pre-pandemic.

That equation is providing the state with an additional $385 million, under the condition that it keep Medicaid patients enrolled even as they climb into jobs and out of poverty.

The recent expansion could be costly if bonus federal matching funds expire as scheduled in April. Comeaux said the state could see a $170 million shortfall for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1.

The Legislature convened this week to craft a spending plan for the coming fiscal year.

“Only half of that population is going to fall off” Medicaid insurance, she said. “Our base budget doesn’t account for those extra folks.”

States have begun lobbying the administration of President Joe Biden for a more gradual reduction in the Medicaid match, Comeaux said.

Highlighting New Mexico’s increasing reliance on Medicaid, Comeaux said that the program pays for three-quarters of births across the state. In rural Torrance and Sierra counties, more the three-quarters of the population is insured through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, for families that earn too much money to qualify for Medicaid but not enough to buy private insurance.