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Jan. 08--Eddy County health officials aren't sure how Obamacare legislation will impact the county's indigent programs.
Indigent program administrator Linda Martinez says changes in the state and nation's health insurance programs are a certainty, but how the changes will impact county indigent programs here and around the state is unclear.
"At this point, I really have no idea," Martinez said. "Will Obamacare do away with the need for the indigent program? I don't know that either. There are so many unanswered questions. We are in a holding pattern and it's business as usual until we learn otherwise." Martinez said she hopes to learn more during next week's New Mexico Association of Counties Legislative Conference in Santa Fe. "At the conference we hope to get at least an idea of what is coming," she said.
Martinez said she hopes more funding will be funneled down to indigent programs. However, it will be up to the New Mexico Department of Human Services to determine what funding, if any, will come down to the local level.
The state agency receives funding for programs from the federal government for Medicaid and matching programs such as sole community provider funds. The Sole Community Provider Program was implemented in 1994 and provides major safety-net funding to New Mexico's rural hospitals and the University of New Mexico Hospital.
According to the New Mexico Hospital Association, the funding levels have grown significantly through the years.
At the same time, counties have had growing difficulties in paying the state match portion of the program. In addition, recent federal administrative initiatives have threatened the viability of the program, especially for public hospitals.
"That's another area of concern," Martinez said. "We don't know what changes to the funding for Sole Community Provider fund will be made under Obamacare."
Martinez said indigent fund administrators in New Mexico are also watching closely what direction the state's Medicaid program will take. . Martinez said, should New Mexico decide against Medicaid expansion, county indigent programs will probably continue to carry the financial burden in providing health care for a segment of the population that qualify.
"Under Obamacare, everybody will be required to have health insurance. But we are going to continue to see the undocumented seeking indigent care," Martinez said. "Per Eddy County indigent rules and regulations, they qualify for indigent hospital care. ... There are several counties in New Mexico that pay for indigent hospital care to the undocumented."
Martinez said she has seen a steady increase in the number of undocumented individuals or families seeking indigent care. But the increase in the number of people filing indigent is not limited to undocumented residents.
"I know Eddy County has a low unemployment rate, but we are seeing more legal residents filing indigent. Some people that had state health coverage got off it because they could not afford the premium, and some lost their job and lost their insurance benefits and they are coming to us for help," she said.
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