New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez has approved the expansion of the state's Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Native American health advocates say the expansion will have a huge effect on one of the largest Native American populations in the nation.
Over 200,000 registered tribal members live in New Mexico - and with nearly 40% of that population lacking healthcare - it's estimated that over 25-thousand Native people in New Mexico will potentially be eligible for the program in 2014.
Roxanne Spruce Bly is a consultant and tribal healthcare advocate. She says governor Martinez's move is a huge opportunity for Native people to get health coverage and access to critically needed services. "The exciting part is just having so many Indian people in this country with the opportunity to have health coverage, and not continuing to be uninsured and unable to pay for the services they need or be dependent on charity systems or safety net systems. there's enormous piece of mind that comes with knowing "if i get sick, i have a means to pay for my care."
The move to expand the Medicaid program is expected to have the most impact on tribal members living in San Juan and McKinley counties... as well as the states urban Indian population.
New Mexico will join at least 15 other states and the District of Columbia in broadening eligibility for the health care program under terms of a health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.
Martinez made the announcement Wednesday during a speech in Albuquerque.
About a fourth of New Mexico's population currently receives health care through Medicaid, but the program mostly covers uninsured children in low-income families along with the disabled and some extremely low-income adults.
The expansion in 2014 will make adults eligible with incomes of about $26,000 for a family of three or $15,400 for an individual.
In making her announcement, Martinez bucked a recent trend of Republican governors refusing to sign on to the Medicaid expansion provision of the Affordable Care Act.
Altogether, ten GOP governors have said no to the provision - including four this week.