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Medicaid buy-in will help everyone in New Mexico

There are many stories in New Mexico’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community about lives cut short by lack of access to health care. As the co-interim director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center (NMAFC), I hear these stories almost daily. Now that funding to develop a Medicaid buy-in plan has passed the Legislature, I urge Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to seize this opportunity to craft a plan that will extend coverage to all New Mexicans. AAPIs and all families need this affordable health care coverage option.

The Medicaid buy-in is an innovative idea that would allow eligible New Mexico residents to pay a reasonable monthly premium for the trusted health care coverage that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. That includes preventive care, childbirth and prenatal care, and even specialty care.

For one family that I worked with, New Mexico’s Medicaid buy-in plan is coming too late. But for so many more in our community, it will be a welcomed relief that will finally make life-saving health care affordable and accessible.

Last year, a 55-year-old grandfather came to NMAFC asking for help accessing health care. He had moved from Vietnam to Albuquerque a few years before with his wife. Their daughter had married an American man and started a family of her own here. Working and raising kids, particularly for low-income, immigrant families, can be overwhelming. A multi-generational household can help bridge gaps in childcare and income, and the daughter and son-in-law were grateful to have her parents living with them.

Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, though, the grandfather began experiencing severe headaches. Without financial resources, he was unable to access care in the United States. It wasn’t until he made a trip back to Vietnam that he went to a doctor. The news was devastating: He had brain cancer.

Back in New Mexico, he was ineligible for Medicaid because he had not been in the state for five years. Desperate to get treatment, he and his wife moved again. This time to California where he could access Medicaid. He began chemotherapy, but the treatment made him weak and, without being able to work, he couldn’t afford the cost of rent, food and basic necessities. He and his wife had to move back in with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Albuquerque. He was with his family, but he was without care.

When I started working with him through the center, he had gone many months without any treatment. He was weak, and his family was scared. I was able to get an exception for him to receive coverage through UNM Care. He briefly resumed treatment, but, I am sad to say, died a few months ago.

Timely access to affordable health care could have saved – or at the very least prolonged – this man’s life, giving him more time with his family. It is not too much to ask that our elders be able to see a doctor, and to see their grandchildren grow up.

Talk to any of the more than 40,000 AAPIs living in New Mexico and you will hear a similar story. A friend who lost a limb because she couldn’t afford medical attention until it was too late. A cousin who died from pneumonia as a result of the flu. A grandchild born prematurely due to inadequate access to prenatal care. It’s time to change the way families access health care.

With a Medicaid buy-in plan in place, New Mexicans, including those like the grandfather I worked with, will be able to get covered and get care – without fear of bankrupting themselves or their families.

We cannot change that family’s story. It’s too late. But, by adopting a Medicaid buy-in plan in New Mexico, we can provide a better quality of life for the thousands of other New Mexicans – in the Asian Pacific Islander community and around the state – who lack health care coverage.

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