by Rick Nathanson, Albuquerque Journal
March 28, 2017

New Mexico leads the nation in the percentage of babies born into Medicaid families – which can be taken as a reflection of the state’s high poverty rate or an indication that government here takes care of its own.

According to figures from 2015, 72 percent of the births reported in New Mexico were paid for by Medicaid, a jointly funded federal-state health insurance program for low-income, disabled and other people who qualify.

New Mexico’s top ranking was from a just-released survey of all 50 states and the District of Columbia conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Arkansas ranked second, with 67 percent, and Louisiana was third, with 65 percent. The state with the smallest percentage of babies born on Medicaid was New Hampshire, with 27 percent.

On average, Medicaid paid for about 47 percent of all births nationwide, the Kaiser survey concluded.

Because roughly 900,000 of New Mexico’s 2 million population are on Medicaid, “it’s not surprising that it carries over to a large proportion of Medicaid births,” said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc. “First and most obvious is that New Mexico has among the highest poverty rates in the nation.”

In fact, according to the most recent Kids Count Data Book, New Mexico is worst in the nation in the percentage of children living in poverty; has among the highest percentage of kids living in families where parents lack full-time, year-round employment; and has among the highest child and teen death rates in the nation from accidents and addictions.

That New Mexico has such a high rate of Medicaid births can be seen as a positive and proactive health care measure, said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which produces the Kids Count Data Book.

“What this indicates, first and foremost, is that New Mexico has shown smart leadership in terms of ensuring healthy births,” he said. “It’s smart because, when prenatal care and healthy births are supported, it saves money in the long run, so it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

On the downside, Jimenez noted, this first-in-the-nation ranking shows that “New Mexico’s economy is not providing enough good-paying jobs that include benefits like health insurance. We’ve been pursuing a failed, trickle-down, tax-cuts-for-jobs economic development plan, yet we have the highest unemployment rate in the nation.”

State Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest said, “Ensuring newborn children in New Mexico get off to a healthy start is a primary goal of New Mexico’s Medicaid program, which is why we provide health care coverage to pregnant women who don’t have other health insurance.”

HSD administers Medicaid programs in New Mexico.

Earnest added that “the commitment to a healthy start is also why we offer coverage for kids at higher eligibility levels than many other states.”

Sanderoff said New Mexico health care professionals and institutions – doctors and hospitals – “look to third-party providers to foot the medical bills, and they’ve done a good job helping financially eligible individuals apply and qualify for third-party payment through Medicaid.”

The 72-percent Medicaid birth rate for 2015 is down from 82 percent recorded in a fiscal year 2013 Legislative Finance Committee accountability report. That reduction, Jimenez said, “shows that, by mandating maternity coverage on all insurance plans, the Affordable Care Act has made a difference.”

The Kaiser Family Foundation gathered its data by surveying state Medicaid directors, who provided the most recent statistics available. About half the states reported numbers for the 2015 fiscal or calendar year. The rest used numbers from 2013 or 2014, and few from 2016.

Copyright 2017, Albuquerque Journal