85,000 New Mexicans or more could be kicked off Medicaid this winter

Still no formal notice from the federal government about when the public health emergency will be declared over

By: - December 13, 2022 5:05 am
A crowd of demonstrators march toward the viewpoint of the camera. In the center, a person holds a sign above their head that reads, "Medicaid Matters! Health care is a human right!"

Protesters demonstrated against cuts to Medicaid and Medicare on September 21, 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

After the Biden administration calls the end of the state of emergency for COVID, between 85,000 and 100,000 people in New Mexico would be kicked off Medicaid, according to the state’s Human Services Department.

Those changes could begin on March 1 of next year — that’s the earliest possible date — New Mexico’s top health official told a panel of state lawmakers on Monday.

A requirement for continuous health care coverage during the public health emergency helped stop the periodic “churn” in the Medicaid program, where people get kicked off the rolls but quickly re-apply because they still need health care. The result of such uncertainty is delayed medical care, fewer preventive visits, and periods of uninsurance.

“Do you have a plan for how your department is going to address that once we’re having to recertify and process that paperwork?” Sen. Siah Correa Hemphill (D-Silver City) asked acting Department of Health Secretary David Scrase.

“There is a plan like you would not believe, and meetings like you would not believe, to make sure we’re ready when the time comes for that,” Scrase responded at the Legislative Finance Committee meeting on Monday.

More than one-third of the people in New Mexico are covered either by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the highest proportion of any state in the country.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act protects people enrolled in Medicaid with continuous coverage until the end of the public health emergency, gives states more money to administer Medicaid, and prohibits states from making fewer people eligible or imposing new bureaucratic hurdles to enrollment.

The Biden administration promised to give state governments 60 days’ notice before declaring the public health emergency over. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has said it would be “tough” to give much more notice than that.

The warning is meant to provide “enough time for states to roll out their unwinding plans,” New Mexico HSD spokesperson Marina Piña said in an email.

The federal public health emergency declaration lasts through Jan. 11, and there hasn’t yet been any indication that it will be extended. The federal government did not meet the deadline to notify states, so an end date for expanded Medicaid is unclear.

A request for comment sent to the federal Health and Human Services Department was not returned as of Monday afternoon.

Once the federal public health emergency ends, Piña said, someone who loses Medicaid could complete a renewal application to see whether they still qualify. The Department will mail renewal packets, she added.

“HSD is encouraging all customers to make sure the department has their most up-to-date contact information,” she said. “The easiest way to update is by using the chat at the YESNM Portal.”

Nationwide, the number of people on Medicaid increased between February 2020 and August 2022 by more than 27% nationwide to a total of 90.6 million people, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

That includes 980,931 people in New Mexico as of Monday, Piña wrote. That number is expected to reach more than 1 million by January, the state’s Medicaid director told the Albuquerque Journal.

Federal HHS estimates as many as 15 million people across the country will lose health coverage once states again start recertifying and disenrolling people.


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.