by Bill Jordan
April 16, 2013

Even though New Mexico’s economic recovery lags far behind the rest of the nation, fewer and fewer of our low-income children are enrolled in the state-federal health care program New MexiKids (Medicaid and CHIP). In the last month alone, more than 1,200 children lost their health care coverage, according to the state’s monthly enrollment report. Worse, the number of children with coverage has dropped in more months than it has increased under Governor Martinez, and there are fewer children enrolled now than in January 2011 when she took office. (By contrast, Governor Johnson enrolled tens of thousands of children during his tenure and Governor Richardson’s administration enrolled 30,000 more children in the last three years of his administration.)

Given New Mexico’s lousy job-creation record, we can assume that the drops in enrollment are not because low-income parents suddenly got jobs and now have private health insurance coverage. Clearly something else is at work.

A large part of the enrollment drop is that the state has stopped funding for all outreach and enrollment activities for children. Many parents simply do not know that their children are eligible for no-cost or low-cost health insurance and some need help navigating the system. The Human Services Department (HSD) has also refused to adopt ‘express lane’ policies to simplify enrollment for low-income families that also qualify for other assistance programs. They even require parents to produce proof of citizenship on their child’s first birthday so the child’s enrollment in New MexiKids can continue – even though the child is obviously a citizen because they were initially enrolled by the state when they were born in a New Mexico hospital the year before! None of this is surprising, given that HSD initially sought to redesign the state’s Medicaid program in order to cut costs.

Failing to cover kids under Medicaid because of cost is penny wise and pound foolish. Children are cheap to insure (less than $1,000 a year for the state) but the payoff in terms of better health and education outcomes is high. Besides immunizations, most children need well-child checkups and the occasional doctor’s visit for the cold or flu. It’s when those well-child checkups catch a developmental delay, which can then be treated before it sets a child’s normal development back, that the program really pays off—for the state as well as the child.

Fortunately, New Mexico is one of the states wisely taking advantage of the opportunity to expand Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). Because low-income parents will be expected to apply, their children who are qualified but not already enrolled in New MexiKids will also be signed up. But early enrollment isn’t set to begin until October and coverage doesn’t begin until January 2014.

The Affordable Care Act provides a unique opportunity to improve our children’s health. Better health means better outcomes in school and in life. Let’s do what’s right by our kids and make sure that the implementation of ObamaCare and the Medicaid expansion for adults is well-planned and executed so all of our eligible children are enrolled in New MexiKids.

Bill Jordan is Senior Policy Advisor/Governmental Relations for New Mexico Voices for Children