SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Community activists and social services advocates used a plate of waffles Tuesday as part of a lobbying campaign to urge Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to support expanding Medicaid to provide health care to nearly 150,000 low-income New Mexicans.
One of the biggest issues confronting the Legislature and governor next year is whether to broaden eligibility for Medicaid under terms of a federal health care overhaul. Medicaid provides medical services for a fourth of New Mexico’s population and will account for about $1 of every $5 spent by state government in this year’s $5.6 billion budget.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month that the federal government can’t force New Mexico and other states to expand the program in 2014 by threatening to withhold federal aid.
An Albuquerque-based group representing working families, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, or OLE, delivered a plate of waffles to the governor’s office, saying they want Martinez to “stop waffling” and back the Medicaid expansion.
Albuquerque day care worker Dana Gallegos said her husband has been waiting for a year to visit a dentist because the family can’t cover medical costs and household expenses.
“Without Medicaid and if you make minimum wage, it’s either go to the doctor or pay your bills,” said Gallegos, who was among about a dozen activists who stopped by the governor’s office.
The couple’s 3-year-old currently qualifies for Medicaid. Gallegos hopes she and her husband will become eligible if the state agrees to expand the program.
Scott Darnell, a spokesman for the governor, said Martinez hasn’t made a decision on Medicaid but will do what “best protects and sustains basic health care services for those most in need.” Since taking office last year, the governor has supported increased state spending on Medicaid.
Darnell criticized OLE and its lobbying tactics with the plate of waffles.
“This is a shameless stunt by a far left-wing group that cares more about playing politics than protecting health care,” he said.
The Human Services Department estimates state spending on Medicaid will increase by nearly 7 percent, or $496 million, from 2014 through 2020 if Medicaid eligibility is expanded and nearly 150,000 additional people are enrolled.
The federal government says it will pay most of the costs of the proposed expansion through 2020, with an additional $6 billion potentially flowing into New Mexico.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, a Deming Democrat and chairman of a Senate committee that handles the budget, said Tuesday he expected a heated debate in next year’s Legislature over Medicaid. He said the state must decide whether it can afford the long-term costs of expanding the health care program while meeting other obligations such as public education, which accounts for nearly half its budget.
Smith said he’s also worried the federal government may be forced to pare back its spending to reduce the nation’s deficit. The federal government initially will pay 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion and that will drop to 90 percent in 2020.
“What happens when they’re wrestling with the federal budget and they change the rules and it’s no longer a 100 percent or a 90-10, but it’s a 50-50” split, Smith said.