ALBUQUERQUE — Nearly every day for the past ten months, Lina, 23, has worked as a personal care assistant for Lisa Langrehr, a 60-year-old woman who is paralyzed on her right side. It’s been a full-time job for Lina — from 8 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, seven days a week, she’s helped Langrehr take showers, accompanied her to and from medical appointments, paid the bills, done the laundry, walked Blacky the dachshund, and cooked meatloaf and enchiladas.
“Without caregivers, I don’t survive, I don’t survive at all,” Langrehr said. She’s been receiving in-home care services since 2013, when she fell in her kitchen and broke her neck. A cadre of three caregivers work in shifts, paid for through Medicaid. Lina, who requested her last name not be published to protect future employment opportunities, usually made about $800 every two weeks.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday over Texas v. California, in which the state of Texas argued that the entire Affordable Care Act should be rendered unconstitutional. This is not the first time the Supreme Court has heard cases brought against the ACA. But it is the first case against the ACA with three Trump Administration appointees: Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett, the most junior justice, has been openly critical of the ACA in her legal writings. President-elect Joe Biden spoke after the hearings, calling the case “cruel and needlessly divisive.”
Texas brought the case arguing that more Texas residents have applied for Medicaid due to the ACA.
One disabled Albuquerque woman, Jeanne Hamrick, said she would not be able to afford prescription drug costs if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act during this judicial term. Hamrick spoke during a live phone conference hosted by Democratic U.S. Senator Tom Udall to let average residents around the state talk about what losing the ACA would mean for them. The Supreme Court will hear California v. Texas on Nov. 10. The case challenges the constitutionality of the individual mandate and, with the likely confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett establishing a new conservative bloc majority, the court could overturn the entire ACA.
Hamrick said that before the ACA went into effect in 2013, she was paying $100 each month for prescription medication on a social security budget.
If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act during the 2020-2021 judicial term, the result for New Mexicans could be catastrophic, according to various officials and experts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas on November 10. If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Monday, as is expected, this will be among the first cases she will hear as a Supreme Court justice. If she is confirmed, she will create a new 6-3 conservative bloc on the court bench which could lead to a ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional. If this happens, 20 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage, according to a report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
Access issues plaguing the state could be exacerbating women’s cancer screenings difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American Cancer Society. Tim Tokarski, senior manager for development in New Mexico and El Paso for the American Cancer Society, told NM Political Report that the need to travel long distances to see a physician is an issue for people who need a breast cancer screening or other types of gynecological cancer screenings. “New Mexico has a tremendous amount of access issues,” Tokarski said. But, distance isn’t the only barrier to health care access, he said. “Geography and income and insurance and socioeconomic status” also pose barriers, he said.
Reversing a three-year decline, the number of people covered by Medicaid nationwide rose markedly this spring as the impact of the recession caused by the outbreak of COVID-19 began to take hold. Yet, the growth in participation in the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people was less than many analysts predicted. One possible factor tempering enrollment: People with concerns about catching the coronavirus avoided seeking care and figured they didn’t need the coverage. Program sign-ups are widely expected to accelerate through the summer, reflecting the higher number of unemployed. As people lose their jobs, many often are left without workplace coverage or the money to buy insurance on their own.
Tom Schripsema, executive director of New Mexico Dental Association, said the three month closure has been hard on dentists. Now they have to consider everything from the way air flows in their practices to increasing the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time when PPE is scarce and more expensive. They also have to limit the number of patients they can see in a day to keep patients and everyone who works in the practice safe from COVID-19. In addition, dentists who are recent graduates could be under a significant student loan debt burden. Jennifer Thompson, a dentist with a private practice in Farmington, said the average dentist comes out of dental school with $290,000 in student loans.
New Mexico is one of two states – the other is New York – that meets the gating criteria set by the White House for reopening, according to a group of public health and crisis experts. A website called covidexitstrategy.org is mapping the state-by-state response to reopening and, according to the map, only New Mexico and New York meet the gating criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The organization is made up of public health and crisis experts who are nonpartisan and worked at the federal level during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, according to the site. The criteria include things like the number of ICU beds available and the downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period. Dr. David Scrase, New Mexico’s secretary of the Health and Human Services Department, talked about the map and New Mexico’s criteria for reopening during a town hall meeting broadcast live through social media Wednesday along with Dr. Richard Larson, vice chancellor for research with the University of New Mexico Health Science.
One grassroots organization has turned to digital outreach and phone banking to encourage residents, especially those who are hard to reach, to fill out the 2020 census and be counted. But that wasn’t part of the original plan. Advocates for migrants, Indigenous, people of color and low income communities have said that having everyone count in the 2020 census is important. Felipe Rodriguez, a campaign manager for the grassroots organization New Mexico Dream Team, said that if just one percent of residents don’t fill out the census form this year, the state could lose hundreds of millions in federal funds over the next ten-year period. “That’s a lot of money,” Rodriguez said.
The federal stimulus bill passed by Congress could lead to negative impacts on women’s health in New Mexico and other states. The unprecedented $2 trillion in federal relief, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump late last month is expected to provide aid to many who have been impacted by the economic fallout caused by the lack of infrastructure to contend with the respiratory virus. But buried deep within the nearly 1,000 page bill is language designed to take a swipe at Planned Parenthood. Businesses and nonprofits seeking relief money will have to go through the Trump Administration’s Small Business Association—and the agency has the ability to refuse the nonprofit organization, according to Vice. Anti-abortion lawmakers claimed it as a “win” against abortion rights.