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Plan would boost funds for mental health care

SANTA FE – New Mexico is seeking to increase access to a variety of health care services, including mental health treatment, in rural areas with a $78.5 million proposed increase in annual Medicaid spending, Human Services Department officials said Tuesday.

The agency increased federally subsidized Medicaid payments earlier this year by roughly $230 million to hospitals, physicians and other providers.

The newly proposed rate increases, which would take effect Oct. 1, would rely heavily on federal matching funds, leveraging a state general fund appropriation of $16 million to inject $78.5 million into health care. The proposal is open to public comment through the agency’s website.

More than 800,000 residents are enrolled in the state’s federally subsidized Medicaid program, which was expanded substantially in 2014 to include more people with incomes just above the federally defined poverty level.

The proposed increase in payments to medical professionals is directed primarily toward behavioral health services, as the state rebuilds its networks for treating mental ailments and addiction.

In 2013, then-Gov. Susana Martinez froze payments to 15 nonprofit mental health service providers over concerns about fraud, driving many out of business. Prosecutors found only regulatory violations.

The proposed Medicaid rates for behavioral health care would apply to most outpatient services that don’t require a hospital stay and would represent an average payment increase of 30%.

In a news release, Human Services Secretary David Scrase described those increases as “substantial and designed to form the foundation for significant rebuilding of our New Mexico network.”

Randy Marshall, executive director of the New Mexico Medical Society, said many Medicaid reimbursement rates were slashed in 2016 as the state grappled with a budget shortfall and approved austerity measures. State government income is now surging amid record-breaking oil and natural gas production in southeastern New Mexico.

The state Medicaid rate increases would have the biggest effect on rural clinics and practices, where up to 90% of patients are covered by Medicaid, Marshall said.

The state also is seeking to shore up Medicaid funding for dental care, increasing the minimum payment for each encounter with a patient to $200.

More annual Medicaid spending – an estimated $900,000 – also would be dedicated to a program called Project ECHO, which allows medical providers in remote areas to consult with medical specialists by videoconference.

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