Alibi V.27 No.40 • Oct 4-10, 2018 

News Feature

Our Health is Our Future

City Council approves Medicaid buy-in resolution

Abuko Estrada calls for affordable healthcare for all New Mexicans
Abuko Estrada calls for affordable healthcare for all New Mexicans
courtesy N.M. Center on Law and Poverty

A glimpse of El porvenir: Anthropologists from the year 3179 will take some time out of their normal routines to unearth, document and offer a critical dialogue on the host of problems that haunted human civilization for most 20th and the 21st century.

You can be sure such lofty future scientists will stumble upon and then point to a pervasive and conceivably labyrinthine healthcare crisis in the richest nation on Earth as one of the reasons why the hairless apes in charge of things in the year 2018 had a hard time moving forward.

En serio, healthcare options have had a tremendous effect on citizens of this city, county and state. With pervasive poverty, seemingly intractable crime issues, an uncertain economy and an education system that is in desperate need of reform, it is more important than ever that New Mexicans of all social statuses and class affiliations have some healing recourse—a progressive methodology followed up by the structured implementation of high-quality healthcare services would do much to ameliorate many of the issues currently stultifying the city and state.

Luckily for Burqueños and Burqueñas, a forward-thinking City Council is on your side, on the side of the future. This past week Council newcomer Cynthia Borrego introduced a resolution urging our leaders to support a statewide healthcare for all initiative sponsored by NM Together Healthcare.

The proposed program would involve a public buy-in option for Medicaid. According to official publications supporting the measure, a Medicaid buy-in would increase insurance coverage among New Mexicans, more healthcare services would be available to citizens of the state, at a lower cost than private insurance purchased on the exchange—and most importantly, Medicaid is easy to use, rendering the maze-like healthcare system navigable to those most in need of attention.

Weekly Alibi met with Abuko Estrada, an attorney for healthcare issues at the N.M. Center on Law and Poverty, to get a better idea of what such proposals really mean to the people. While emissaries from the distant future were certainly listening, the issue requires attention now—experts implore—if indeed there is to be a future worthy of sustainable human investment.

Weekly Alibi: For our readers who are unfamiliar with what your organization does, can you provide a brief overview?

Abuko Estrada: Absolutely. The N.M. Center on Law and Poverty is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy group that tackles systemic issues that impact New Mexicans with low wages. We work in areas such as public benefits, workers’ rights, predatory lending practices, education and healthcare.

Let’s talk about resolution R-18-75; what was the outcome at Monday’s City Council meeting?

The Council unanimously supported the resolution.

So, what do the next steps toward implementation involve?

What the resolution did was, really, to get the support of the City Council regarding an on-going study about the Medicaid buy-in. The study is being conducted by Manatt Health. We are assisting them on the technical and policy side with our involvement in the NM Together For Healthcare campaign. That is actually a coalition of different organizations including the Center for Law and Poverty, Health Action New Mexico, The Partnership for Community Action and Strong Families New Mexico. We’ve built in the capacity of family leaders of color to advocate on healthcare issues. This is one of the issues they are pushing on, because they see that every New Mexican should be able to have access to quality, affordable healthcare coverage.

Do you feel like your coalition is going to get support for this measure—a Medicaid buy-in—from the state Legislature and the next governor?

I think we do have support from the Legislature. During this past legislative session in 2018, there were two memorials passed to study the Medicaid buy-in idea, both of those measures passed with bipartisan support. Assuming that the study [done by Manatt] shows viability, we plan to support legislation for the process to begin at the 2019 [legislative] session. In terms of the gubernatorial candidates, we haven’t been able to reach Congressman Pearce’s campaign on that issue, but Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham has shown support for the idea.

So do you think Lujan Grisham would sign such legislation into law?

I think she wants to see the details of the report, but we really feel that she’s shown her support.

What should citizens know about the Medicaid buy-in?

Every New Mexican deserves access to high quality healthcare. Really, what the Medicaid buy-in is intended to do is to provide an affordable option. Right now we still have more than 180,000 New Mexicans who don’t have health insurance and there are thousands more that are underinsured; they can pay the premiums but have difficulty affording co-payments and deductibles.

How would such a program be implemented?

There are different ways to design a Medicaid buy-in. The way the campaign is thinking about it is by using a phased approach that would start with limited access and then build out to a larger population of citizens. If citizens receive tax credits from the government—currently—to buy coverage through the exchange, they would be able to use those credits to buy the more affordable Medicaid plan.

How serious is the healthcare crisis in New Mexico?

Again, I think that every New Mexican deserves access to affordable healthcare. It’s a very critical issue that we get that coverage implemented; it’s part of building a better healthcare system in the state and nation. When people don’t have adequate healthcare, when they have to wait until something gets really bad, until a personal health crisis occurs, they end up in the emergency room. That ends up costing the system a lot more, on many levels, in the long run. If we actually covered people on the front end, we could reduce those costs and improve the overall health of our community.