Vote 4 NM: The Medicaid buy-in debate | KOB 4
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Vote 4 NM: The Medicaid buy-in debate

Patrick Hayes
October 04, 2018 04:23 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – There’s a push in New Mexico to allow low-income families to buy into Medicaid.

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Medicaid is a federal program administered by the state, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

Last year in New Mexico, about $5.6 billion dollars went to Medicaid, with $1.7 billion coming from the state. The rest came from the federal government.

Medicaid recipients have to meet certain requirement to receive benefits.

Single adults have to make less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level, about $1,300 a month. A family of four has to make less than $33,384 a year or $2,700 a month.

There are also different requirements for pregnant women and the elderly.

Even though the program is costing the state more than a billion dollars, some say there is a silver lining.

UNM health economist Kelly O'Donnell says Medicaid helps create tens of thousands of jobs.

“If Medicaid wasn't available, many of those health care providers would not be in business," she said.

Health care is one of the state's largest economic drivers, according to O’Donnell. She said it’s at least partially responsible for more than 30,000 jobs.

“I would say that a large portion of New Mexico's health care workforce derives at least part of their income from Medicaid payments made on behalf of patients," O’Donnell said.

In New Mexico, more than 40 percent of the population is on Medicaid, making the program big and pricey.

Some believe spending is getting out of control. Others say expanding the program is the way to go. 

“No family should go without health care because they can't afford it and currently in New Mexico, we have over 180,000 individuals who still lack health insurance,” said Abuko Estrada, who works at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Community members, decision makers, state and national experts have come together to find a sensible solution to address that problem."

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is pushing to expand Medicaid through a buy-in program that would help provide health coverage to those currently ineligible for Medicaid.

"There's certainly other options to help families get insurance but this is perhaps one of the most innovative solutions within the country. Kaiser did a poll late last year and two-thirds of Americans support doing a Medicaid buy-in,” Estrada said. “It's also gaining support nationally with federal legislation currently in progress but New Mexico is actually on track to become the first state in the nation to implement a Medicaid buy-in."

Not everyone believes a buy-in program is a realistic solution.

Paul Gessing, who works for the Rio Grande Foundation, a think tank that looks at economic policies, says Medicaid is already too big.

“There's just too many people, especially in New Mexico here, that say the more money we can get in here that's economic development. We can grow our economy by putting more people on welfare,” Gessing said. “That's a bizarre understanding of economics.”

But according to a report from O'Donnell, reducing Medicaid would jeopardize more than 30,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in wages and salaries.

The report also points to more than $700 million in taxes generated because of Medicaid.

“Because people who are employed in our health care institutions go out and spend money on the local economy, they buy groceries, they pay rent and so the impact would, the negative impact would not be isolated to health care, it would radiate out through the entire economy," O’Donnell said.

 However, Gessing believes the economic benefits of Medicaid are overstated.

"I don't think you can credibly say Medicaid, broadly speaking, has done much to bring New Mexico out of its economic doldrums,” Gessing said. “You can look back at when that program was expanded under President Obama and you can look at jobs but you're taking money out of the broader economy and that's what a lot of these economists miss is every time you have government spending. That money has to come from somewhere."

But proposals for Medicaid expansion through buy-in programs are not going away.

During the 2017 legislative session, the state house and senate passed memorials to study a possible buy-in program. On Tuesday night, the Bernalillo County Commission voted, unanimously, to support a Medicaid buy-in program.

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Patrick Hayes

Copyright 2018 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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