Reader View: The time has come for universal health care in New Mexico
Within hours of winning the White House, President-elect Donald Trump affirmed his desire to scrap the Affordable Care Act — McClatchy News
Trump’s health picks signal dramatic cuts — The New Mexican
Devastating news for New Mexico. New Mexico ranks 38th in the U.S. in providing health care; in 2015, 14.3 percent of low-income households were uninsured and many more underinsured.
With a Democratic House and Senate, New Mexico must now seize the moment, and enact the nation’s best-designed universal health care system: the New Mexico Health Security Act. The New Mexico Health Security Act promises to be a game-changer, providing better health care, cutting costs and improving the state’s economics and society’s welfare.
In 1993, a universal health care bill, NewMexicare, was introduced in the Legislature. It morphed into the New Mexico Health Security Act, and provisions and safeguards have now been greatly improved with feedback from more than 150 organizations, including 34 counties and municipalities, that support the Health Security Plan Campaign.
The Health Security Plan covers almost all New Mexicans. (Active-duty, retired military and federal retirees maintain their own plans. Tribes and companies self-insured under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act have the option to join the plan.) It shifts private insurance to a supplemental role, and sets up a health plan that maintains the private health care delivery system with freedom to select doctors and providers across state lines. It is administered by an independent, non-governmental, geographically representative and publicly accountable citizens commission.
There is no current economic study of the New Mexico Health Security Act, but earlier studies showed that, compared to managed-competition private insurance-based systems, the New Mexico plan could save more than a billion dollars in a five-year period. Major savings are attained by administrative expenses comparable to Medicare’s 3 percent versus 17 percent to 25 percent for private insurers, negotiated drug prices, and for our overworked doctors and the health care providers, no more costly time dealing with multiple insurance company plans.
Under “Obamacare,” the New Mexico Health Security Act was to be funded largely by a U.S. Department of Human Services Waiver for State Innovation that would have allowed inclusion of the state’s existing public dollars spent on health care, Medicaid, Medicare and all tax credits, subsidies and expanded Medicaid. Plan members also would pay reasonable premiums based on income and employer contributions (both capped).
Implementing the New Mexico Health Security Act would be a three- to four-year process after passing the act: a comprehensive financing analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee; legislative approval of financing enabling the plan development; the Affordable Care Act waiver to fund the act (if still applicable); and, finally, expenditures to get the plan up and running.
The financing plan must consider Donald Trump’s health care plans. As Trump proposes delegating functions to the states, he may not oppose the New Mexico Health Security Act initiative, and the health care block grant he favors would provide funds.
All the functions of New Mexico society will benefit from achieving universal health care at affordable cost: Healthier kids learn better; a healthier workforce earns better; citizens and businesses no longer burdened by costly health insurance will have income to spend that will stimulate growth and create jobs; bankruptcies due to medical debt will be prevented.
A New Mexico Health Security Act bill will be presented in the 2017 Legislature’s long session. Please contact your state representative and senator and tell them it is urgent to enact the New Mexico Health Security Act and start the process for implementation. You can support the Health Security Plan Campaign with a donation, which can be tax-exempt (see www.nmhealthsecurity.org).
Fred Bender was one of The Santa Fe New Mexican’s Ten Who Made a Difference in 2007. Professionally, he was a metallurgical engineer in the mining industry. He is now 95 years old.