Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Governor Unveils Health Proposals
By Jackie Jadrnak
Journal Staff Writer
Gov. Bill Richardson hopes to reduce the number of people without health insurance and increase state funding of Medicaid.
The goals are on the health agenda Richardson unveiled Tuesday for the upcoming legislative session.
The number of people without health insurance has continued to grow in the last couple of years, reaching about 414,000 people, he said. The governor hopes to reduce that number by about 41,000 people.
The grab bag of proposals also calls for imposing a fee on vending machine providers in schools $250 in elementary schools, $500 in middle schools and $750 in high schools that will raise about $4 million for children's health. The healthier their offerings are, the less they'd have to pay, according to his plan.
In addition, some nursing home residents and their families could be subject to a potential tax increase to help finance Medicaid next year.
Richardson is recommending the repeal of a tax credit enacted last year to help as many as 1,800 New Mexicans offset a nearly $9-a-day tax on nursing home beds. The state would collect an additional $2 million by the repeal.
Richardson also said he's increasing Medicaid funding by $78.4 million, or 16 percent, but that would barely balance out an expected $50 million to $60 million cut in federal funding.
He also proposes increasing food stamp benefits from $10 per month to $25 per month for elderly or disabled people who receive Social Security benefits.
His plan to expand health insurance coverage includes:
Implementation of the State Coverage Initiative, a proposal to use federal, state and private funding to insure about 10,000 additional people through small businesses that haven't been able to offer insurance to their workers.
Allow small businesses and nonprofits to buy into the state's health insurance program, and offer a tax credit to encourage small employers to offer health insurance.
Allow young people through age 24 to stay on their parents' insurance policies whether or not they are students.
To help ensure the safety of children and people in need of health care, the administration supports:
Creating a registry in the Department of Health to track its contractors who have committed fraud, abuse or exploitation.
Adding all people who work with children, such as social workers, and expanding the kinds of health care workers to those who must undergo a criminal background check.
Spending another $600,000 to add inspectors for nursing homes and other residential treatment centers, as well as to pay for monitors when the state takes over management of such centers.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.