New Mexico's Medicaid enrollment rises during pandemic

Posted: May. 20, 2020 7:00 am Updated: May. 20, 2020 1:17 pm

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico health insurance regulators say statewide enrollment in Medicaid is increasing as businesses shed workers in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Medicaid enrollment increased by roughly 8,650 people in April over the previous month, the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance said Tuesday.

Colin Baillio, a project manager at the agency, said the state can expect to see more people shifting from employer-based health insurance to the federally subsidized plan for residents living in poverty or on the cusp, as unemployment swells.

The state's Workforce Solutions Department was providing unemployment benefits to roughly 117,000 New Mexico residents as of last week, up from about 10,000 early this year. That could signal an eventual exodus from employer-based health plans.

The nonprofit Urban Institute research organization estimated this month that between 102,000 and 197,000 people may lose their job-based insurance in New Mexico, depending on levels of unemployment. More than half are expected to enroll in Medicaid, and a smaller share is expected to turn to New Mexico's insurance exchange that provides subsidies to households with low and moderate incomes.

The number of residents without insurance could increase by 25,000 or more, the institute said.

About 40% of New Mexico residents already rely on Medicaid for health care in a state of 2.1 million residents.

The federal coronavirus relief act signed into law in March provides $132 million to temporarily increase the federal matching rate for Medicaid in New Mexico, according the staff at the Legislature's nonpartisan budget and accountability office.

A new coronavirus relief proposal approved by the U.S. House would provide subsidies to help laid-off workers remain on their employer-provided health insurance plans through so-called COBRA benefits and create an open enrollment period to sign up for Affordable Care Act policies on state and federal health insurance exchanges.

Insurance Superintendent Russell Toal has launched a specialized insurance call center to help with questions about possible surprise medical bills, how to sign up for coverage and more. The state also has issued emergency rules that prohibit cost sharing for COVID-19 testing and treatment under state-regulated health plans.

COVID-19 could have stamped a person “uninsurable” if not for the Affordable Care Act. The ban on insurers using preexisting conditions to deny coverage is a key part of the Obama-era law that the Trump administration seeks to overturn.