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My health care options: Death or Bankruptcy

Like many New Mexicans, my family and I have never been able to separate our health from our finances. Over generations, we’ve confronted difficult diagnoses and have been forced to make trade-offs between treatment and other essential needs. I believe it’s long past time to change our health system so no one has to make those impossible decisions.

My grandfather, an immigrant from Vietnam, had no health insurance when he was diagnosed with cancer back in 1994 and could not access government assistance because of his green card status. My father would have done anything to get him the care he needed, but my grandfather didn’t want to see us lose our home or go bankrupt – so he chose to forgo treatment that could have saved his life because of what it cost.

Presently, our family is again questioning what we are willing to do for the care and treatment we deserve as I face my own battle with cancer for the third time. Battling cancer is never easy, and the stress that is associated with care is always a challenge. However, even though I have health insurance, undue worry about my ability to afford care is as present as my concern for my health is.

My family’s story shows that while we have slowly made progress in health care justice in this country, it hasn’t been enough. Far too many New Mexicans are facing financial barriers that stop us from taking care of ourselves and our families the way we want to.

For some, premiums may be so high that health coverage is completely out of reach. Many, like me, have health insurance but have unmanageable bills because of the co-pays and huge deductibles we’re responsible for when we need treatment. Others have quality affordable care through Medicaid but worry that if they get married, earn a raise at work, or have a successful year as a small business owner they’ll suddenly lose eligibility and have no option that they can reasonably afford.

There’s no reason this should be the case, and that’s why I’m part of New Mexico Together for Healthcare – a coalition of individuals, families and organizations that have come together to confront the real barriers to care facing our communities, and to work in collaboration to design a solution to help as many people as possible.

Last summer, we met and collectively identified a Medicaid buy-in as the policy initiative we believe has the most potential to achieve our goals: providing more New Mexicans with quality coverage, making care more affordable, simplifying our current fragmented system, and doing all this in a way that will strengthen the Medicaid program and the infrastructure of health-care delivery in our state.

A buy-in program would be built on the strong foundation of Medicaid in New Mexico, but there are many decisions that still need to be made about who would be eligible to purchase coverage, what the benefit package and costs for consumers would be, and how the program will be financed. In January, a broad bipartisan majority of our Legislature voted to officially authorize a study of the idea, and as part of that process we’re currently talking with stakeholders like care providers, hospitals and health system administrators, and state government officials to hear their ideas, concerns and feedback as we think about how to design a program that will work best for our state.

Most importantly, we want to hear from our fellow New Mexicans about how health care can work better for them and their families. To share your thoughts, learn more about Medicaid buy-in and find out how to get involved with this effort, please visit

Lan Sena lives in Albuquerque and is a Founder’s Council member of United States of Care.

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