Uninsured rates increase in N.M.

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By Ralph Damiani

According to a new report from the Census Bureau, released by the Associated Press, New Mexicans are increasingly without medical insurance. Of course Gov. Bill Richardson says this underscores the need for health care reforms.

And while that may be true, it is also true that many New Mexicans do not take advantage of the programs that are already currently available.

According to the report, slightly more than one in five New Mexicans lack health insurance and nearly that many live in poverty.

About 22.7 percent of New Mexicans were uninsured in 2006-2007, the Census Bureau reported Tuesday. That’s up from 20.1 percent in 2004-2005.

Nationally, the percentage of Americans without health insurance declined from 2006 to 2007, according to the federal agency.

New Mexico continues to have among the highest uninsured rates in the country.

In the latest Current Population Survey, the agency uses two-year averages - 2006-2007 - for evaluating changes within a state but it provides three-year averages - 2005-2007 - to make comparisons among states.

Texas had the greatest share of its population without health insurance, 24.4 percent. New Mexico had a three-year average uninsured rate of 21.9 percent, followed by Florida with 20.5 percent.

Richardson said in a statement that the Census Bureau report was “proof that my health insurance reform package is necessary in order to get New Mexicans the coverage they need and deserve. The incremental steps we have made over the years are helping kids get and keep coverage but are not doing enough to help hard working New Mexico adults.”

The Human Services Department said the federal report showed no statistically significant change in the average number of uninsured children and that there was an increase in adults without health coverage.

The Legislature earlier this year turned down Richardson’s proposal for universal health care and he called a special session this month to consider a scaled back package of reforms, including guidelines on electronic medical records, limits on premium increases and a requirement that insurers spend 85 percent of what they collect in premiums on direct services.

Those proposals failed as many legislators said there were too many programs in use that were being ignored. But the governor said he will continue to push for universal health care during next year’s legislative session.

In a separate report, the Census Bureau said the poverty rate in New Mexico was 18.1 percent last year, and the median household income in the state was $41,452 in 2007. Neither of those showed a statistically meaningful change from 2006, according to the agency’s American Community Survey.

Gerry Bradley, an economist and research director for New Mexico Voices For Children, said the lack of change in the poverty and income measures was disappointing because the state’s economy had been good.

“Given this economic growth, we would have hoped to see a more significant drop in the poverty rate,” Bradley said in a statement.

He said legislation approved during a just completed special session “will improve living standards for families so we are making progress.”

One measure, which Richardson signed into law Monday, will increase an income tax credit for lower- and moderate-income families. The Legislature also approved a one-time tax rebate, assistance for people to pay home heating bills and money to provide health coverage to more uninsured children.

New Mexico ranked 45th among the states and the District of Columbia in median household income, which is a measure showing half of the households above a certain income and half are below.

Two states had higher poverty rates than New Mexico: Mississippi, 20.6 percent, and Louisiana, 18.6 percent.

Both of these problems can only be truly solved by the private sector. But New Mexico’s laws are not business friendly and that is one reason we lag behind our neighbors.