#WheresSusana on the Senate health care debate?

by Bill Jordan
Updated September 21, 2017

Despite three complete failures, some in Congress are still trying to kill Obamacare. This last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the ACA is the Graham-Cassidy bill. Like its predecessors, it would gut health care programs for millions of Americans, make private insurance unaffordable for middle-income families, and allow states to roll back Obamacare’s most popular component: consumer protection. Congress has until the end of this month to pass this legislation on a simple majority vote, so they’re pushing hard.

Like the legislation before it, the Graham-Cassidy bill would turn Medicaid—the health insurance program for poor children, the elderly, and disabled—into a block grant. This would mean that Congress could spend significantly less money on this program, which would force states to either come up with the money or cut the program.

For New Mexico, this would mean a loss of nearly $1.3 billion by 2026, according to a recent report by the Washington D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The last three attempts to dismantle health care were not terribly popular with voters, who didn’t like that more than 20 million Americans would lose their coverage. Several governors—both Republicans and Democrats—didn’t like that the bills would shift health care costs from the feds to the states. These governors have seen first-hand how Obamacare has benefitted their constituents and their states.

The Graham-Cassidy bill will do at least as much damage as the bills that fell before it. But this time around it has a new supporter: Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. His support is significant because it may well convince Arizona Senator John McCain to back this bill. He delivered one of the key ‘no’ votes in the most recent round, but he has said he’ll take Ducey’s position into account.

While Arizona is one of the states that expanded Medicaid under the ACA, it was done by Ducey’s predecessor. New Mexico’s governor is responsible for expanding Medicaid here, and it’s had significant economic and health benefits for the state. Health care is the only sector consistently adding jobs here. Thanks to Obamacare, New Mexico’s rate of uninsured has been cut in half—much of that due to Medicaid. Accepting the Medicaid expansion will be one of Susana Martinez’s legacies as governor. So why hasn’t she spoken up against all these attempts to repeal and replace it (each of which seems worse than the one before it)?

More than 300,000 New Mexicans, many of them children, got their health care coverage because of Obamacare.

Should the Graham-Cassidy bill pass, a poor state like New Mexico only has a few options to cope with the lost federal funds:

  • Cut the number of people getting care;
  • Cut the amount of care they get;
  • Cut the amount the state pays doctors and hospitals; and/or
  • Make the patient pay more of the cost of the care.

Because the state is broke, New Mexico is already exercising all of these options except for cutting the number of people who get care. So if the Graham-Cassidy bill passes, New Mexico is not likely to be able to just pick up the extra cost. Our lawmakers can barely even balance the state budget as it is now.

So where is Governor Martinez on this issue? We don’t know because she hasn’t spoken up. Even though she can take credit for the hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans who gained health insurance through Medicaid under Obamacare, and for the tens of thousands of jobs that have been created, she has yet to express an opinion on any of the bills that would gut it. She cared enough and believed in it enough to expand Medicaid a few years ago. Now she needs to let us all know she cares enough to preserve it, and her legacy.

Update: After this blog was posted and during a legislative committee meeting, New Mexico legislators asked the state Secretary of Human Services, who oversees the state’s Medicaid program, if the Graham-Cassidy bill would be good for New Mexico and whether Governor Martinez supported or opposed the bill. The Secretary said the Graham-Cassidy bill would hurt New Mexico. Later in the evening the Governor released a statement saying she supports a bipartisan fix for the ACA. The NM Political Report has coverage of the hearing here, the Santa Fe New Mexican has coverage here, and the Albuquerque Journal has coverage here.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor and Government Relations Officer for New Mexico Voices for Children.