7 in 10 N.M. births paid for by Medicaid

ALBUQUERQUE – Seven in 10 births in New Mexico are paid for by Medicaid, according to a recent state analysis.

The study by the state Legislative Finance Committee showed 71 percent of the nearly 27,800 babies born in the state during 2010 were paid for by the state and federally funded health-insurance program for the poor, The Albuquerque Journal reported.

The large number of Medicaid births reflects a slew of problems in New Mexico, such as high rates of unemployment, drug use, school dropout and teen pregnancy, said Peter Winograd, director of the Center for Education Policy Research at the University of New Mexico.

“I think it’s a reflection of the demographic reality of New Mexico,” Winograd said. “Think about an uneducated population continuing to grow and what does that do for our economic viability.”

Paul Silverman, a director of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce, said the number indicates that a majority of New Mexico babies are born to mothers who lack the resources to give their children a good chance of success. It pointed to the need for a stronger economy that can provide residents with good jobs and health insurance, he added.

“We are either going to spiral down, or we are going to spiral up,” Silverman said. “We have to take the actions that are necessary to build a private sector and create a much more diversified economy based on the private sector.”

The state Human Services Department oversees Medicaid and pays premiums to four managed-care organizations to provide health insurance for New Mexicans who qualify for Medicaid. About one in four New Mexicans – or 522,000 people – is enrolled in the program.

Medicaid covers 62 percent of New Mexicans 18 and younger. Those who are eligible are in families with incomes up to 235 percent of the federal poverty level – or $4,514 a month for a family of four.

Medicaid covers pregnancy-related health care for women with family incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $3,554 a month for a family of four.

Steve McKernan, CEO of University of New Mexico Hospital, said Medicaid coverage for pregnant women remains a good investment for the state because of the strong link between prenatal care and healthy births. “Women who have coverage are more likely to access care,” he said. “For women that access care frequently during their pregnancies, they get better outcomes.”