SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — More than 13,000 New Mexicans have applied for health care services through Medicaid since enrollment opened earlier this month for an expanded program that will cover more low-income adults, according to state officials.
Gov. Susana Martinez's administration and a health care advocate consider it a good start for a state with one of the highest uninsured rates in the country.
Of those who submitted applications, about 79 percent, or nearly 10,500, were found to be eligible for Medicaid through Wednesday, according to the Human Services Department.
Matt Kennicott, a spokesman for the department, said the pace of Medicaid enrollment since Oct. 1 is similar to what the state typically sees each month. There were about 19,600 applications for Medicaid in September.
"As we pick up steam and more people become aware of it, then we'll get more people on the rolls. So I think it's fine as long we are making headway with these kind of numbers," said Barbara Webber, executive director of Health Action New Mexico.
She noted that enrollment in the broader Medicaid program began the same day that New Mexico, the federal government and other states launched online marketplaces for individuals and businesses to shop for health insurance.
The Human Services Department also is gearing up to implement a Medicaid overhaul that aims to slow cost increases and improve health outcomes for recipients.
Benefits won't start until January for New Mexicans who qualify under the Medicaid expansion allowed under the federal health care law. The federal government initially will pick up the cost of those who enroll.
The revamped Medicaid program, known as "Centennial Care," also takes effect in January and is intended to better coordinate services from physicians, dentists and mental health therapists.
About a 560,000 people, or roughly a fourth of the state's population, receive health care through Medicaid. About one in five New Mexicans lacks insurance.
The Human Services Department expects an extra 130,000 New Mexicans to enroll in Medicaid during the first year because of expanded eligibility guidelines. That's more than the 80,000 projected to gain health insurance from private insurers through the exchange in its first year.
The department has aired radio ads to try to alert people to the Medicaid expansion. TV ads will be broadcast soon and about 200 "outreach events" are planned to provide information on how and where people can enroll.
About 87 percent of this month's Medicaid applications were made at department offices with the assistance of staff and at self-serve computer stations. About 12 percent were made online through an agency website. Others were done through a telephone hotline or at other agencies and locations, including hospitals.
Kennicott, the department spokesman, said the enrollment system has been "running pretty smoothly actually" and the department isn't disappointed that more people haven't signed up yet.
"Honestly, we're super early in the process for the expansion population," he said. "We need to kind of see how things play out here and where we need to focus resources to reach more people."
Webber said her group is holding events with other organizations to help people enroll in Medicaid and a campaign is planned similar to voter registration drive. Mailings, door-to-door canvassing and automated phone calls will be used to encourage people to sign up for health coverage.
She said the Medicaid expansion and the program's overhaul are the start of "a long-term process that needs to happen if we're really going to have health care reform."
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