SANTA FE — New Mexico legislators are weighing a request to take $92 million from a newly created fund to help expand health insurance coverage and reduce costs for low-income individuals and others.
The proposal comes as the New Mexico braces for at least 80,000 people to be kicked off Medicaid when the federal government lifts a COVID-19 emergency declaration.
The funding — sought by the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance — would support ongoing efforts to reduce insurance costs for small businesses and their employees and for individuals who buy coverage through the state exchange.
Some of the money would also go toward offering coverage options for people and families who aren’t otherwise eligible or able to afford health insurance.
A coalition of groups that advocate for low-income families, Native Americans and immigrants called on lawmakers Wednesday to support the full $92 million request.
Alex Williams of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, one of the advocacy groups, said the coalition wants to ensure the entire request is dedicated to its required purpose, not diverted for other uses.
The $92 million would come out of the health care affordability fund, which was established last year with the proceeds of a state health insurance tax.
“We need every dollar in the fund to be spent making health care more affordable,” Williams said.
Insurance Superintendent Russell Toal presented the budget request to members of the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday.
“We have an essential role to protect New Mexicans,” he said.
Toal said the funding is especially important given that 80,000 to 90,000 New Mexicans may lose their Medicaid eligibility next year — perhaps in April — if a federal emergency declaration expires, as expected.
Federal legislation in response to the pandemic restricted when states could kick people off Medicaid during the emergency.
The new fund, in any case, is already having an impact. In July, for example, money from the health care affordability fund began reducing premiums for small businesses and their employees.
State Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, an Albuquerque Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee, joined the coalition of advocacy groups to support the requested spending.
“We all benefit when someone can access health care,” Ortiz y Pino said. “This is not a luxury. This is a necessity.”