Though the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion cut New Mexico's uninsured rate by half, as many as 1 in 10 New Mexicans still remain uninsured. Over 12,000 more are enrolled in high-deductible health plans, which encourage people to forgo needed care.
I believe that Medicaid buy-in could provide a more affordable coverage option for those struggling to pay premiums and deductibles right now and in my state help the more than 180,000 uninsured get coverage. It could also help insulate New Mexicans from the Republican-caused turmoil at the federal level. This could be replicated across the country.
New Mexico families already benefit from and know Medicaid. The program serves as the foundation of the state's healthcare system and provides comprehensive coverage to over a third of the state's residents. Introducing an option for individuals and families to purchase Medicaid would increase competition and give consumers more choices. In addition, people in the individual insurance market can experience “churn” as their income changes and they move between Medicaid and the private insurance market. The opportunity to purchase Medicaid could help minimize the disruption that consumers currently face when their circumstances change.
Recently, former CMS acting Director Andy Slavitt visited New Mexico to talk with community leaders, the labor and business communities, health advocates, healthcare providers and insurers about Medicaid buy-in. Tough questions were put on the table and not everything had an immediate answer.
With the acknowledgment that “healthcare is complicated” confirming what I know as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Health Subcommittee, there are tough questions we need to work through. Should reimbursement rates go up? Sure. Should the cost of prescription drugs go down? You bet. Do we need to think about network adequacy and federal waivers and a whole lot more? Yes. But what's not complicated is that too many sick people are unable to afford a trip to the doctor. That's why smart people are invested in making this happen.
New Mexico is rich in history and culture, but as a rural state with its fair share of health challenges, it often needs to think outside the box to help families. This Medicaid buy-in effort is the result of some of the smartest health policy minds in the country and a fierce grassroots engagement to protect Medicaid expansion—stories were sent to my office from New Mexicans who make just too much money to qualify for Medicaid coverage yet not enough to piece together real insurance options on the exchanges.
This bottom-up approach to solving policy problems motivated the State Public Option Act, a bill I introduced with my colleague Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and legislators who encompass the full spectrum of the Democratic Party. From Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, to Reps. Beto O'Rourke of Texas and Andre Carson of Indiana, this concept is gaining traction with Democrats who, one day, hope to offer universal health coverage to all Americans.
Currently, 14 states across the country are considering a Medicaid buy-in option. Healthcare is a right, plain and simple.