NM is evaluating a $92 million proposal to reduce health insurance premiums

Booths line a wall during a beWellnm open enrollment event last year at the Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces. (Courtesy of beWellnm)

SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers are considering a request to withdraw $92 million from a newly created fund to expand health coverage and reduce costs for low-income individuals and others.

The proposal comes as New Mexico prepares for at least 80,000 people to be thrown off Medicaid if the federal government lifts a COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The funding, requested by the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance, would support ongoing efforts to reduce insurance costs for small businesses and their employees, as well as for individuals who purchase insurance through the state exchange.

Some of the money would also be used to provide insurance options for individuals and families who are otherwise ineligible or unable to afford health insurance.

A coalition of groups advocating for low-income families, Native Americans and immigrants asked lawmakers Wednesday to support the entire $92 million proposal.

Alex Williams of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, one of the advocacy groups, said the coalition wants to make sure the entire request is dedicated to the needed purpose and not diverted to other uses.

The $92 million would come from the Health Care Affordability Fund, which was set up last year with proceeds from a state health insurance tax.

“We need to spend every dollar from the fund to make health care more affordable,” Williams said.

Insurance Superintendent Russell Toal presented the budget proposal to members of the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday.

“We play an integral role in protecting New Mexicans,” he said.

Toal said the funding is especially important because 80,000 to 90,000 New Mexicans could lose their eligibility for Medicaid next year — perhaps in April — if a federal emergency declaration is expected to expire.

Federal legislation in response to the pandemic limited when states could throw people off Medicaid during the emergency.

In any case, the new fund is already having an effect. In July, for example, money from the Health Care Affordability Fund began lowering premiums for small businesses and their employees.

State Senator 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 proposed spending.

“We all benefit when someone has access to healthcare,” Ortiz y Pino said. “It’s not a luxury. That is a necessity.”