Survey: New Mexicans still can’t afford health care

By: - December 20, 2021 2:53 pm

Experts are worried that pandemic fatigue will lead people to take more chances with their health. (Photo by Damir Cudic / Getty Images)

Over the summer in New Mexico, when hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 were going down and daily vaccinations were at a high, two-thirds of New Mexicans still couldn’t afford health insurance, delayed or skipped needed medical care due to cost, or struggled to pay medical bills, according to a recently released survey.

The findings suggest that New Mexicans will have an even more difficult time paying for health care this winter, with federal unemployment insurance payments no longer coming in and the omicron variant spreading across the world faster than any previous strain of the deadly virus.

The survey, conducted by the nonprofit research agency Altarum, included 1,170 adult New Mexico residents interviewed between July 16 and Aug. 11. Of the people surveyed, 80% worried about affording health care in the future. And though testing and care for COVID cases should be free under New Mexico rules, 60% worried about affording treatment for COVID-19 if they need it. Most respondents also expressed strong support for government-led solutions.

The overwhelming majority of respondents said the government should:

  • Show what a fair price would be for specific procedures (93%)
  • Make it easier to switch insurers if a health plan drops your doctor (91%)
  • Require drug companies to provide advanced notice of price increases and information to justify those increases (91%)
  • Ensure patients can’t be charged out-of-network prices if they encounter an out-of-network provider through no fault of their own (90%)
  • Set standard prices for drugs to make them affordable (90%)

In response to the study, a coalition of community organizations called New Mexico Together for Healthcare announced plans to pressure state lawmakers in the new year to reduce health care costs by making it easier for New Mexicans to get health insurance, reduce prescription drug costs and study how much hospitals are charging uninsured patients.

“We can and must make smart policy decisions that lift up New Mexico families and ensure that everyone has care,” said Adriann Barboa, policy director for Forward Together Action.

They plan to support legislation to create a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to study acceptable drug prices and a memorial asking the state Health Department to study hospital fees and costs.

“We must take action. It is unacceptable that, after all we’ve learned from the pandemic about the importance of health care access, New Mexicans still sacrifice their health because costs are too high,” said Fernanda Band of New Mexico Dream Team.

Lawmakers will begin a 30-day session on Jan. 18, which will be limited to state budgeting issues, but the coalition is asking Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to add the bill to her list of other priorities for the session. The measure can be heard without having to be put on the governor’s list.

Worried about bills?

Scope resources for health care, child care, food, housing, utility bills or legal fees.

Use the Office of the Superintendent’s tool to figure out if you qualify for low-cost or free health coverage.

Testing and treatment for COVID-19 is free in New Mexico.

Unsure of how to get started seeking coverage? Or have you gotten a bill for COVID-related care that you shouldn’t have? Call the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Insurance’s COVID-19 Health Insurance Helpline: 1-833-415-0566. They’re open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

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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.