Between the middle of March and the end of April, over 120,000 New Mexicans filed for unemployment.

Along with their jobs, thousands have presumably lost their health insurance that is often tied to their employers. 

Colin Baillio, project manager at the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, said the Office does not have any way to directly track how many people have lost their insurance.

A May 2020 study from the Urban Institute estimates that between 102,000 and 197,000 New Mexicans will likely lose their job-based insurance, depending on unemployment rates. 

Between 61,000 and 118,000 will likely enroll in Medicaid, between 16,000 and 32,000 will enroll in health insurance exchanges and between 25,000 and 48,000 will become uninsured.

Baillio wrote in a Tuesday email that the Office will not have a clear picture of the actual situation for a few months, and that it could change because of coverage-related provisions in future relief packages.

For those without insurance, the state has compiled a list of services and resources they can turn to.

“During a pandemic, a public health emergency, we need everybody to know that those services are available and that coverage is going to protect them if they do get hospitalized because of COVID-19 or any other number of things that may happen to them,” Baillio said.        

New Mexico residents may qualify for Medicaid if they are unemployed or if their current monthly income is less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (one-person household: $1,467.40; two-person household: $1,982.60; three-person household: $2,497.80; four-person household: $3,013.00; five-person household: $3,528.20). To enroll visit yes.state.nm.us or call 1-855-637-6574.

They may qualify for premium assistance to help pay for coverage through New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange (beWellnm) if they recently lost their jobs and do not qualify for Medicaid. Visit beWellnm.com or call 1-833-862-3935.

If they tested positive for COVID-19 and are uninsured, they may qualify for expedited enrollment through the New Mexico Medical Insurance Pool. The Pool also provides coverage on a sliding scale to New Mexicans who do not have coverage from their employer and do not qualify for Medicaid or beWellnm. Visit nmmip.com or call 1-844-728-7987. 

More detailed information can be found at newmexico.gov/health-coverage/.

The Office of the Superintendent of Insurance has also opened a calling center, staffed 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, so that people can call with questions about health insurance coverage.

If people are being wrongfully charged for COVID-19 testing and treatment–services that are free in the state–they can also call and learn about their rights.

Rio Arriba County Health and Human Services Director Lauren Reichelt said she has heard from nurses in Albuquerque that they received bills for their own COVID-19 tests, which is illegal.

“We really do need people to have access to healthcare,” she said. “That is absolutely key. And we need our health care providers to have a source of payment, because they’re gonna go under, if we overwhelm them with people who can’t pay and no payment source.”

Some feel that a more robust system needs to be in place at the state level to provide all residents of New Mexico with comprehensive, affordable health insurance, regardless of whether they have a job.

A coalition of over 160 diverse organizations called the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign has been working since 1992 to establish a statewide system for guaranteed health care.

The health care plan the Campaign proposes would be administered by an independent commission of consumers, business owners and health care providers, the Campaign’s website states.

The Plan would provide comprehensive primary coverage to most New Mexicans, but they could still purchase supplemental private insurance policies.

The benefits would be just as robust as the state employee package, said Dana Schultz Millen, education and outreach coordinator for the Campaign.

And the commission would provide hospitals with operational budgets, which would ensure a steady stream of income for them and allow them flexibility to address the needs of the specific communities where they are located.

The Plan would be funded by existing public monies and capped employer contributions and premiums based on income.

In the 2019 legislative session, the New Mexico Legislature allocated funds to a study of the finances of the proposed plan. In 2021, after reviewing the fiscal analysis, lawmakers will vote on whether to implement it.

Schultz Millen said the pandemic has “brought into sharp relief” the inequities in the private insurance system. 

“The pandemic is just making it clearer than ever that we have major systemic problems in this nation, and also in New Mexico,” she said.

She cited numerous challenges that people will likely face in the coming year within the private system––more surprise billing, and rising premiums, deductibles, drug costs and out-of-pocket costs––challenges that, she said, could be addressed under the Health Security Plan.

She described the shift to the Plan in New Mexico as “a paradigm shift.”

“That’s what we need,” she said.

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