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Editorial: Medicaid bill shows NM needs payment plan, jobs

Starting next fiscal year, New Mexico’s budget will take a serious hit thanks to the state’s Medicaid enrollment success. And that means job No. 1 for state lawmakers is to figure out where to come up with an extra $268 million by 2020.

Job No. 2 will be how to get more of those covered New Mexicans working in good-paying jobs so they don’t have to be on government-funded health insurance anymore.

Neither is easy. But here’s a tip for the next four years: If New Mexico is successful at Job No. 2, Job No. 1 becomes easier.

Currently one of every 2.5 New Mexicans is on Medicaid, and with the higher-than-expected expansion under Obamacare (enrollment has outpaced initial projections by more than 60 percent) as well as decreasing federal subsidies, New Mexico is looking at a $1.1 billion bill to pay for its share of the program by fiscal 2020. Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott says the state expects to have more than 895,000 people on the rolls by then, including 257,000 who will be covered as part of the expansion.

When you have only around 2 million people in the state, that number, and thus that program, is simply unsustainable – no matter how important it is to expand access to health care among the state’s most vulnerable residents. That extra $268 million for one health-care program is just shy of the entire state’s public works budget that was just signed by the governor.

David Abbey, director of the Legislative Finance Committee, told lawmakers last week that “other parts of the budget are going to have to shrink. If the Medicaid share is growing faster, something else has to grow more slowly.”

And while that equation will likely have to be addressed by 2020, the very best way to mitigate it – for the insured and taxpayers alike – is a faster-growing private employment sector.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.