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NM’s Hispanics get worst of ACA deal

How do we measure the Affordable Care Act’s impact on Hispanics? New Mexico, with nearly half its population made up of Hispanics, is the perfect place to answer that question. Like all New Mexicans and all Americans, they were promised access to affordable, quality health care.

Both of these promises were broken.

The lack of affordability is most obvious.

Last month, the Obama administration released a preview of New Mexico’s premium increases for insurance plans on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange. These numbers are an early look at 2016’s insurance costs.

It isn’t pretty.

One of New Mexico’s largest insurers, covering almost one-third of enrollees on the state’s exchange, requested premiums up to 51 percent higher than this year’s. New Mexico Health Connections, another major player on the exchange, initially projected premium increases no higher than 5 percent, but has since revised their estimate to a 17 percent increase on some plans.

“Silver” plans – an intermediate level of coverage – are expected to rise 11 percent on average in Albuquerque.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the cheapest plan from one of the state’s insurance market leaders this year costs $199.56 a month in premiums. In 2016, that monthly premium would likely grow to around $300.

More broadly, of the 52,358 New Mexicans who received their coverage through the exchange in 2015, 35,000 enrollees could experience the 50 percent premium hike on Jan. 1.

These premiums are growing too fast for New Mexico. Overall, New Mexicans have lower median incomes and a higher poverty rate than those in nearby states.

Latinos in general are nearly twice as likely to be in poverty as white non-Hispanics and, despite the Affordable Care Act’s implementation, nearly a third remain uninsured.

With the looming premium hikes making private insurance out of reach, many Hispanic families will likely be forced onto Medicaid. As far back as 2011, 55 percent of Medicaid enrollees in New Mexico were Hispanic. As of this year, there are over 700,000 New Mexicans on Medicaid and CHIP – double the amount since the Affordable Care Act passed.

The Affordable Care Act’s supporters say this is a good thing. But Medicaid’s growth isn’t a measure of success – not by a long shot.

Medicaid offers health insurance, but it doesn’t offer reliable and effective health care. The inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services found that over half of providers no longer accept Medicaid patients.

Of the doctors who do accept Medicaid, the provider networks are narrow and nearly one-third face wait times of over a month. It doesn’t matter how many people you enroll in this program or how much money you throw at it – Medicaid is a sub-par government insurance program that’s getting worse by the day.

All of this is the result of Washington, D.C.’s attempt to control health insurance and health care. It leads to more regulations that inevitably increase costs and decrease quality.

This was obvious even before the Affordable Care Act was passed.

Health care was already heavily influenced by Washington in the early 2000s, when estimates showed eliminating regulations could have saved individuals up to $2,000 every year.

Then the Affordable Care Act added tens of thousands of new pages of regulation, doubling down on the approach that made insurance more convoluted, more expensive and less effective.

The results have been dismal, as New Mexico’s Hispanics are learning firsthand.

The Obama administration spent nearly one-third of the Affordable Care Act’s media budget on Hispanic outreach for Spanish-speakers, but it neglected the most important part of health care reform: affordable and effective health care.

For New Mexico’s Hispanic community, the Affordable Care Act isn’t living up to its name.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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