About 103,000 sign up for Medicaid in NM … good news or not?

BIG NUMBERS: More than 103,000 people in New Mexico have enrolled under the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog

SANTA FE, N.M. – The estimates for enrollment in Obamacare individual policies may be falling short in New Mexico, but sign-ups for the state’s Medicaid expansion are surging.

Officials announced Wednesday that slightly more than 103,000 low-income New Mexicans across the state have jumped aboard for the state’s new Centennial Care health plan since Oct. 1, putting it ahead of its goal to sign up 130,000 by fall.

“We’re happy with the numbers so far,” said Human Services Department spokesman Matt Kennicott. “We were pretty confident we could hit our goals, we just didn’t know we’d hit them at this rate.”

By contrast, sign-ups in New Mexico for individual plans under the Affordable Care Act have lagged.

Originally, officials at the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange hoped 80,000 people would enroll for individual policies by the end of this year. Due to the problems associated with the rollout of healthcare.gov, though, NMIX reduced its target to 50,000.

Through March 1, a little more than 15,000 New Mexicans have signed up for individual policies.

In contrast, the figures released Tuesday show that nearly seven times more new enrollments are from Medicaid than from individual policies.

“I’m delighted about this,” said former state Sen. Dede Feldman, D-Albuquerque, upon being told about the 103,000 sign-ups. “This new population of enrollees includes adults … and people who are hard to insure and people with mental illnesses who are now eligible, and that will save money in the long run.”

But one member of the NMHIX board is worried about the lopsided nature of the state’s Medicaid vs. ACA numbers.

“Medically, it’s a good thing to have more people insured because, in theory, they will get more care when they need it,” said Dr. Deane Waldman, a pediatric cardiologist in Albuquerque.

But Waldman points out that while no premiums are attached to Medicaid recipients, the federal health-care exchange does not disclose how many people are paying — and how many are getting partial or full subsidies — through Obamacare individual policies.

“The insurers could get hit with a huge bill, and there is no compensation,” Waldman said. “It’s really worrisome to me that people will sign up and not pay their premiums.”

Citing some of those concerns, 21 states — most with Republican governors — have turned down the offer to expand Medicaid. But New Mexico’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, decided to accept the deal.

Saying “this decision comes down to what is best for New Mexicans,” Martinez said in January 2013 that she decided to go forward with Medicaid expansion after “I weighed every possible outcome and impact.”

Under the deal, the federal government will pay 100 percent of Medicaid costs for the first three years; that will drop to 90 percent by 2020.

“It’s pretty hard to turn that down,” Feldman said, adding that she thinks the Medicaid expenses “will be fixed, as was Medicare and Social Security.”

Waldman countered by saying, “The feds literally have no way track those who sign up (for individual policies) and don’t pay. This is not a non-trivial problem.”

Contact Rob Nikolewski at rnikolewski@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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