Since New Mexico dropped to 50th in the nation in child well-being almost a year ago, little if anything has been done to turn things around for our kids. Now comes news of yet another lost opportunity for improving outcomes for our young people.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has just released a new report on state ObamaCare enrollment through the health insurance exchanges or marketplaces. The report shows a dramatic failure on the part of New Mexico to sign up young people. Of all the states, New Mexico was tied for 5th worst in the percentage (14 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 26, and tied for 4th worst for the percentage (29 percent) of sign-ups who were under age 35. Just 7 percent of those who signed up on the New Mexico exchange were under the age of 18.
This wouldn’t be so bad if New Mexico hadn’t started out with one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the nation. States with high rates of uninsurance had the most to gain from ObamaCare. In fact, 79 percent of the New Mexicans who did sign up for coverage on the exchange received tax credits to help cover the cost of their premiums. That’s a lot of federal money that will flow into New Mexico to help keep people healthy. A lot more money would be flowing in had we worked to maximize enrollment. The fact that we didn’t use this opportunity to close the health insurance gap for our kids is just one more example of a lack of commitment by state government to ensuring that children have health care coverage.
Another example: a few years ago—well before the ObamaCare insurance exchanges opened—New Mexico cut nearly all of its funding for outreach to enroll more children in Medicaid. As a result, Medicaid enrollment of children has been flat, despite the fact that an estimated 40,000 New Mexico children are eligible but not enrolled. Efforts by advocates to restore the outreach funding failed and the uninsured rate among children remained one of the worst in the nation.
In the last year, the federal government gave the state millions of dollars to conduct outreach to enroll the most vulnerable New Mexicans in ObamaCare. These are the people who are most likely to have never dealt with an insurance company before, and least likely to have access to a computer and have the necessary computer and/or literacy skills to navigate the enrollment process. Advocates and service providers recommended that the state use the outreach money to hire people who would go into communities and actually assist these folks with the enrollment process. Instead, an out-of-state P.R. company was hired to create an ad campaign. Clearly the ads weren’t as effective as they could have been.
For a state that is 50th in child well-being, one would think that our leaders would have grabbed this extraordinary opportunity to use those millions of dollars of federal outreach money in the most effective way possible in order to improve health outcomes for kids. Sadly, as this new report shows, it was just another missed opportunity.
Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for NM Voices for Children. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.