December 8, 2015

Leaders must prioritize health and well-being of our families

Howie Morales is a Democratic State Senator from Silver City, in Senate District 28.

We have seen tough times in New Mexico. If you are a working parent, chances are that you earn barely enough to make ends meet. The list of daily expenses is becoming more costly – mortgage or rent, food, clothes, childcare, and transportation – not to mention health insurance.

howie moralesImagine in these circumstances, if your 8 year old son got diagnosed with a brain tumor, or your spouse had sudden heart or kidney failure. The emotional toll of caring for a relative battling with serious conditions is devastating in itself. On top of that, every month you would have to scrape together the equivalent of 2 or 3 mortgage payments, maybe more, to pay for the treatment. Parents dealing with health problems could very well lose their jobs. The financial stress would be insurmountable.

New Mexicans live these scenarios every day. Fortunately, more families can get enrolled in Medicaid now to fully cover healthcare costs. The program is a necessity for children, people with disabilities, and seniors.

Medicaid also happens to be a driver of economic growth. Between the first quarters of 2014 and 2015 – the first year of Medicaid expansion – healthcare and social services added over 4,800 jobs. Medicaid has become a lifeline for New Mexico where we face shortages of health care workers and where hospitals have considered shutting down entire departments. It was untenable for these providers to work in an area with such a high rate of uninsured people.

Rather than pointing fingers at Medicaid for our budget woes, we should embrace the benefits we have already experienced and will continue to experience if we allow our budget to reflect what is most important to us. Now is not the time to cut jobs, prevent children from getting healthcare, or run our hospitals and providers into the ground.

We cannot lose sight of who the Medicaid program helps and why we invest in it. Over 830,000 New Mexicans have Medicaid. The program provides them the health care coverage they need to stay healthy and avoid financial disaster due to medical needs.

Medicaid reduces uncompensated care for our hospitals, creates jobs, and makes money for our state. The program pays for itself because it is almost entirely funded by federal dollars.

It is true that oil prices are much lower than expected, which will result in a tight budget. That means we have to make smart choices—and sometimes tough ones. But, we must always remember to put New Mexicans first. That is what we were elected to do. Our budget is a moral document, reflecting our New Mexican values. Those values first and foremost are to ensure our families and friends are well-educated, safe, and healthy.

In this year’s discussion about the budget, I have heard only talk of problems but no solutions. There has been no scrutiny of failed policies, like the tax giveaways passed in 2012 and 2013 that were supposed to boost us out of the recession and create numerous jobs. We have nothing to show for these policies that cost the state millions of dollars.

Yet, sadly we will blame a successful initiative that helps provide health care coverage for pennies on the dollar, helps our hospitals and providers, and our state economy.

That is not responsible leadership for our families. We need to create solutions for our families that will ensure they are healthy, have access to a good education, and can work their way out of poverty. Let’s fully support Medicaid as a solid first step.