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New Mexico studies single-payer care amid coronavirus pandemic

Morgan Lee
Associated Press
The New Mexico State Capital building, also called the Roundhouse.

SANTA FE — Public officials in New Mexico continue to contemplate a possible transition to single-payer health care in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Preliminary results of a study commissioned by New Mexico's Democrat-led Legislature in 2019 were released Tuesday that outline the consequences of combining nearly all financing for health care services behind a single, state-administered payer for all residents.

The analysis from a team led by Maryland-based KNG Health Consulting says the state's uninsured rate would likely fall below 1% and that the use of health care services would likely increase as the vast majority of residents turn to public insurance.

Under a state-administered plan some segments of the private insurance industry would disappear and significant additional funding sources would likely be needed to fully cover the cost of the plan — through some combination of additional contributions by employers, reduced payment rates to medical providers or higher costs for patients.

“Although we assumed significant reductions in costs to administer the program, we found that the health security plan would be underfunded by approximately $7 billion over the first five years of the program,” the preliminary report states.

Several states have contemplated a switch to single-payer “universal” health care systems that are anathema to the national Republican Party. Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden opposes single-payer proposals even as the coronavirus reveals shortcomings of the current U.S. medical system.

Proposals by states for single-payer health care confront legal and financial hurdles as they seek to consolidate federal government tax subsidies and spending on Medicare, Medicaid and health care exchanges.

Comments on the preliminary report for New Mexico are being sought before a final version is submitted to the Legislature's budget and accountability office.

New Mexico cut the uninsured rate roughly in half since expanding Medicaid in 2014 to more people on the cusp of poverty.

Enrollment leveled off in recent years with about 10% of the population still uninsured. It's still unclear what impact the COVID-19 pandemic and a stalled economy will have on the number of people who go without insurance.

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