Children’s Medicaid enrollment still flat as your hat

by Nick Estes
February 10, 2012

Each month, the Human Services Department posts figures showing the number of people in different categories enrolled in Medicaid (with a four-month lag). They just released the numbers for October 2011, broken down by adults and children and by various categories. The reports are available here. Once again, children’s enrollment was down to 336,436. This is about the same as October 2010 (336,034), even though the number of New Mexico children has grown almost 2 percent over the year.

Here is a graph that shows children’s enrollment in New Mexico Medicaid from late 2006 through the present, and then projected (by HSD) through 2013. From 2007 to 2010, enrollment grew at almost 7 percent per year, partly because of the recession but also because HSD was reaching out to families to enroll their kids.

The graph shows that enrollment has gone absolutely flat since the summer of 2010. The graph also shows that HSD is continuing to project very low enrollment growth into the future—about 1 percent per year.

Medicaid enrollment graph

In November 2009, HSD gave a list to the Legislative Finance Committee of various “cost containment” measures they had undertaken to reduce costs in the Medicaid program.  One of the entries was “limit outreach/aggressive recertification.” Medicaid Director Julie Weinberg was quite candid in telling the Legislature and other public audiences that HSD had essentially ceased any special outreach to enroll children because the budget wouldn’t permit significant new enrollment. The results of that slow-down (together with a little improvement in the economy) are shown above.

At last year’s Legislative session, the Legislature and Governor were truly facing a potential crisis in the Medicaid program because the federal stimulus funds were set to expire (and did) on June 30, 2011. They came up with some $300 million in new state funding to fill that gap, and NM Voices for Children publicly thanked them on stepping up to the plate.

But now that this challenge has been met, there is no excuse to continue the slow-down in kids’ enrollment. There are still an estimated 50,000 New Mexico children who are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid. Many of them are Native Americans and/or located in rural areas. We urge HSD to begin once again to focus with providers and advocates on how we can step up the enrollment of our children in Medicaid.

Children have a broad and unique range of health care needs, which is well-covered by Medicaid. It provides child preventive services, including immunizations and developmental screenings.  Appropriate health care can help children avoid preventable and serious chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, and Type II diabetes, and promote adequate nutrition and physical activity. Vision, hearing, and dental care—often considered “extras” in health coverage for adults—are among the services children need in order to develop and achieve their full potential. These are services that lower-income kids can get if they are enrolled in Medicaid. If they are not, these kids will mostly do without, and their education will suffer along with their health. Please, let’s get these kids enrolled!

Nick Estes is NM Voices’ Deputy Policy Director