SANTA FE — New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez opposed President Obama's Affordable Care Act, saying government should not order people of means to buy health insurance.
But Martinez, a career prosecutor until her election as governor in 2010, decided for one reason not to fight Obamacare.
"It's the law of the land," she said in a recent interview.
Martinez, a Republican, said her position solidified after the U.S. Supreme Court decided last year to let stand the federal law to provide health insurance for nearly every citizen.
In early 2013, Martinez said New Mexico would expand Medicaid to cover as many as 170,000 low-income residents.
"The election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico," she said to the state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats.
But Martinez also said that her acceptance of Obamacare was contingent on the U.S. government paying for the Medicaid expansion.
If the Obama administration does not supply the money it has guaranteed, Martinez said, she would have no choice but to reduce the number of Medicaid recipients.
New Mexico could not afford to pay for more health coverage without making deep cuts in other parts of its $5.6 billion budget, something Martinez said she would not do.
"Medicaid expansion is a federal government commitment, and if they should ever break their funding promise, New Mexico will not pick up the burden of adults most recently added to the program at the expense of cutting healthcare for New Mexico kids," she said.
In essence, Martinez said, those most recently added to Medicaid rolls would be the first cut from them if federal funding does not materialize or dries up.
She said she was not persuaded that Obama and Congress would follow through by meeting the cost of additional Medicaid coverage. Martinez said the president had reneged on other promises, such as one to provide a bill for comprehensive immigration reform during his first year in office.
Martinez, 54, grew up in El Paso, but said she had not paid attention to efforts by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to defund Obamacare. Washington is so dysfunctional and polarized, she says, that she cannot allow infighting there to influence her stand on implementing the Affordable Care Act in New Mexico.
Given the court ruling, providing Medicaid for thousands of New Mexico residents "was the right thing to do," Martinez said.
"It means expanding the healthcare safety net to more of those in need and moving care from costly emergency rooms into primary-care offices," she said. "And it does not jeopardize the state's long-term budget outlook. In fact, given our unique population and programs, we can expect revenue increases that offset the cost of providing these services."
The nation's first Hispanic female governor, Martinez will run for re-election next year. So far, two Democrats have announced that they will compete for the nomination to challenge her. A third Democrat, state Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City, is weighing whether to enter the governor's race.
Obamacare has not been an issue in the early stages of the gubernatorial campaign, Martinez's decision to accept the federal law having taken it off the table politically.
Democrats, though, have been more enthusiastic about the Affordable Care Act than Martinez.
"The shift is going to be from a state that is reactive to one that is proactive in healthcare," Morales said.
People who previously could not afford a checkup will get earlier detection of high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and other illnesses, Morales said. This, he said, will mean lower medical bills overall and a higher quality of life.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com