There are currently more than 200,000 New Mexicans without health insurance, putting them just one health crisis away from debt or other serious consequences. Having uninsured patients also strains the health care system – when an uninsured person requires costly care and can’t pay the bill, it raises health care costs and premiums for the rest of the state. The preventive health care available to those with insurance lowers health care costs in the long term, often averting chronic disease or hospitalization. Getting New Mexicans enrolled in health coverage benefits everyone, and the consequences of patients being uninsured likewise affect us all.
More than half of those 200,000 uninsured New Mexicans are eligible for no-cost or low-cost plans on New Mexico’s Health Insurance Exchange or Medicaid. But they may not know about their current health insurance options for myriad reasons. Language barriers or literacy may stand in the way or a family simply may not have the time to explore their choices. Regardless of the reason, our state needs a better way to reach them.
One innovative tool we need to connect the uninsured with plans that meet their needs is right at our fingertips – a program called Easy Enrollment, as simple as checking a few boxes on your income taxes. It costs the consumer nothing and lowers health care costs for everyone. With Easy Enrollment, consumers can consent to the release of relevant information to the N.M. Health Insurance Exchange or Medicaid, submit their taxes as usual and will then be matched with the coverage they qualify for. Our Legislature can pass Easy Enrollment this upcoming legislative session and we can see it go into effect as soon as the 2023 tax season.
Easy Enrollment can also help ease New Mexicans into new coverage after the pandemic. As a result of the federal public health order, New Mexico has been required to keep people enrolled in Medicaid who would have otherwise rolled off for income or other reasons. When that order expires, likely in 2022, approximately 80,000 New Mexicans will lose their medical coverage and have to re-enroll into different coverage. Many may not be aware of this until they try to use their coverage to get care. Easy Enrollment can help these individuals connect to new coverage options before they fall through the cracks.
Easy Enrollment is already working elsewhere in the country. Maryland implemented the program in 2020 with great success. In its first year, thousands of people were connected with insurance they may otherwise not have known about. The majority of these were young people, which improves the risk pool and brings down costs for everyone. In 2022, we’ll see similar programs implemented in Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s a program with bipartisan support from industry and advocates alike.
Now, more than ever, we must make health policy changes to reduce the burden on our overwhelmed health care system. Especially with the pandemic still burdening our health care system, it is critical that all undergo preventive care before a small problem becomes a hospital stay.
It’s clear: Easy Enrollment is a win for all New Mexicans. This simple program can keep patients healthier, prevent more serious and expensive conditions, and save the state from picking up the tab for uncompensated care. Let’s make it happen in the 2022 legislative session.