A new report found that some New Mexico hospitals charge uninsured patients more than insurance companies and government health plans for the same services. Prepared by the New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty, the Hospital Pricing for Uninsured Patients in New Mexico follows one produced earlier this year. This updated report includes newer data. The New Mexico Center for Law and Poverty provided the report to the Interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee this week. The study examined hospital prices for 17 services across 43 New Mexico hospitals.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a 2021 bill into law carving out new consumer protections for people with medical debt. The law required hospitals and debt collection agencies to verify patients’ income level before taking them to court or sending a hefty bill. But some hospitals have routinely failed to do that since the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act took effect in July 2021, according to Nicolas Cordova, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Among other protections, the new law requires hospitals to verify that a patient’s income status doesn’t fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line before taking them to court or sending their unpaid bill to a collection agency like CBF Services or Kryptonite Credit Servers, two of the most prolific debt collection firms working in New Mexico. “I can tell you anecdotally, we know there are hospitals that are not doing that,” Cordova said.
A bill that would end hospital discrimination based on immigration status advanced Wednesday when it passed unanimously in the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee. HB 112 would enable all counties and hospitals in the state that offer indigent care to extend that program to all migrants, regardless of their legal immigration status. Bill sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said during the committee hearing that most New Mexico counties and hospitals are already providing indigent care to people regardless of immigration status. But, because of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress, there are a few counties and hospitals that take a “narrow view” of that law and “discriminate against people who are noncitizens,” Martinez said. According to the Fiscal Impact Report, the PRWORA allows indigent funds to be used only for certain indigent people, but generally not to many classes of immigrants.
A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.
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.