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New Mexico looks into universal health insurance

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s Democratic-led Legislature is embarking on a financial study of how it might provide direct access to health care to almost every resident in the state after more than a decade of weighing options for universal medical insurance.

New Mexico cut the uninsured rate roughly in half since expanding Medicaid in 2014 to more people on the cusp of poverty. Enrollment leveled off in recent years with about 10% of the population still uninsured.

The new fiscal study was funded this year by the Legislature amid repeatedly stalled proposals to develop a system for near-universal health care coverage.

The policy arm of the Legislature has awarded a roughly $390,000 contract for studying the issue to Maryland-based KNG Health Consulting, IHS Markit of London and Albuquerque-based researcher Lee Reynis. Architects of the study collected public comments Wednesday at a meeting in Albuquerque.

The study is expected to outline a variety financial models for expanding health care coverage. The reform advocacy group Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign is calling for a new system that shifts private insurance to a supplemental role in a way that resembles Medicare.

The Legislature this year shunned a proposal to open the state’s Medicaid program to paying customers who aren’t eligible for federal subsidies but may struggle with premiums and out-of-pocket health care costs.

The administration of first-year New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is separately proceeding with its own efforts to better identify the uninsured population and extend affordable care without running afoul of federal law.

A recent state-commissioned study from the Urban Institute found about 187,000 uninsured residents under age 65 in New Mexico.

State Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux said just over half of those uninsured residents are eligible for federally subsidized Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or subsidized coverage on the state-run health insurance exchange.

She said the state is turning to new technology to facilitate Medicaid enrollment, offering “real time” eligibility checks through mobile devices such as smart phones. A pilot version of the program has been tested in four counties.

Abuko Estrada, coverage innovation officer at the state’s medical assistance division, says New Mexico will evaluate several approaches to more affordable care implemented by other states. Those include the “basic health plan” system utilized by New York and Minnesota to provide lower-cost insurance coverage and continuous care to people whose income fluctuates above and below the eligibility line for Medicaid.