SANTA FE – A majority of New Mexico voters support expansion of the state’s Medicaid rolls to insure an additional 170,000 low-income residents, a Journal Poll found.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has not said whether it plans to participate and increase the Medicaid rolls in New Mexico, which has one of the nation’s highest uninsured rates for health care.
The program here already covers about 550,000 people – roughly one in every four state residents – and the expansion would be largely financed with federal dollars.
Fifty-three percent of likely voters surveyed statewide Sept. 3-6 in the Journal Poll said they supported expanding the federal-state program that provides health care coverage for low-income children, seniors, individuals with disabilities and pregnant women.
Medicaid spending makes up about 16 percent of the state’s $5.6 billion budget, a figure that does not include the federal matching funds the state receives to help pay for the program. The federal government currently pays about 70 percent of the state’s total Medicaid cost.
The debate over whether New Mexico should participate in the federal Medicaid expansion depends largely on one’s governmental philosophy, said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff.
“Some people just resent additional government intervention and additional tax dollars being spent to enroll more people in a government health care program,” said Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. “Others think the government should spend more to expand Medicaid to more low-income people in the state or see it as an economic development issue.”
In one study, a University of New Mexico economist predicted that as many as 10,000 new jobs could be created a year in the state if the decision is made to expand Medicaid. However, some skeptics have voiced concerns about the escalating cost of Medicaid.
Breaking down results
Democratic voters strongly supported Medicaid expansion, with 74 percent saying they support it and just 15 percent expressing opposition.
Independent voters, or those who decline to state a party affiliation, also strongly supported Medicaid expansion – 53 percent to 27 percent opposed.
Among Republican voters surveyed, 59 percent were opposed and 25 percent were in support.
Voters who identified themselves as Hispanic were more likely than Anglo voters to support the expansion – 62 percent, compared with 49 percent.
Voters in all parts of the state were more likely to support than oppose Medicaid expansion, with residents of north-central New Mexico most likely to support it (64 percent) and residents of the northwestern part of the state most likely to express opposition (45 percent).
The Journal Poll asked voters: “The state of New Mexico needs to decide whether to participate in a federal program that will expand New Mexico’s Medicaid enrollment by providing health insurance to an additional 170,000 uninsured, low-income people. It is estimated that this expanded coverage will cost about $6.5 billion dollars over six years, with the federal government paying about 92 percent and the state paying about 8 percent. Do you support or oppose expanding the Medicaid program for New Mexico?”
The Journal Poll surveyed 402 likely voters statewide via telephone, both land lines and cellphones, Sept. 3-6. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points. The margin of error increases for subsamples, such as party affiliation, ethnicity and region.
The new law
Under the Affordable Care Act, which Obama signed into law in 2010, the federal government for three years beginning in 2014 would pay the cost of extending Medicaid benefits to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. States that agree to extend benefits would pay 10 percent of the cost thereafter.
The New Mexico Human Services Department has estimated that up to 170,000 additional individuals would receive Medicaid benefits over six years if the program is expanded. The department estimates the state would pay up to $500 million by 2020 and could receive more than $6 billion in federal funding.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld the constitutionality of most of the federal health care law, it ruled the federal government cannot force states to expand their Medicaid rolls.
Though it has not yet advised the federal government whether New Mexico will participate in the Medicaid expansion, the Martinez administration is working on a plan to redesign Medicaid and reduce costs by administrative streamlining and charging certain co-payments to Medicaid recipients, among other things.
However, the redesign remains in limbo after the state requested in April that the federal government delay consideration of its proposal.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal