New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Susana Martinez to expand Medicaid program in New Mexico based off health care law

New Mexico, a state that hovers near the top of national poverty and uninsured rankings, plans to follow provisions of a federal health care law to expand Medicaid to potentially provide medical services to 170,000 low-income adults, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced Wednesday.

New Mexico will join at least 15 other states and the District of Columbia in broadening eligibility for the health care program under terms of a health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.

Martinez made the announcement Wednesday during a speech in Albuquerque, saying the expansion decision “comes down to what is best for New Mexicans.”

About a fifth of the state’s population lacks health care, and only Texas, Nevada and Louisiana had higher uninsured rates, according to the Census Bureau.

Initially, the federal government will pick up the tab for 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion and that will gradually drop to 90 percent in 2020.

Martinez warned that the state will need to scale back Medicaid if the federal government reduces its spending on the program, but she promised to protect services for children.

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“In the event that we are faced with such a decision, we cannot allow our children who are most in need to go without health care services. If the federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid expansion is cut, we must protect our kids and protect our budget by ensuring that the most recent additions to the Medicaid program are the first ones moved off,” said Martinez.

About a fourth of New Mexico’s population currently receives health care through Medicaid, but the program mostly covers uninsured children in low-income families along with the disabled and some extremely low-income adults.

The expansion, starting in January 2014, will make adults eligible with incomes of about $26,000 for a family of three or $15,400 for an individual.

A big factor in the Medicaid decision was whether the state could afford the potential long-term costs of expanding the program, but social services advocates viewed the expansion as a way to boost the state’s economy and strengthen health care.

A study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico estimated that 6,000 to nearly 8,500 jobs would be created by 2020 by the expansion and it would generate from nearly $5 billion to $8.6 billion in economic activity.

The Human Services Department has estimated it will cost the state about $400 million from 2014 through 2020 to expand Medicaid but an additional $6 billion in federal money should flow into the state to cover those medical services during the same time.

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