ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- New Mexico, a state that hovers near the top of national poverty and uninsured rankings, plans to follow provisions of a federal health care law to expand Medicaid to potentially provide medical services to 170,000 low-income adults, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez announced Wednesday.
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. New Mexico and Nevada are the only states with GOP governors to so far commit to the Medicaid expansion.
Martinez made the announcement Wednesday in Albuquerque, prompting cheers and applause from some of those listening to her speech at a conference on child welfare and juvenile justice.
"Access to health insurance has the potential to impact the well-being of our families so that our kids can learn better in school and so mom and dad can be better parents and more productive employees," Martinez said.
About a fifth of the state's population lacks health care, and only Texas, Nevada and Louisiana had higher uninsured rates, according to the Census Bureau.
Initially, the federal government will pick up the tab for 100 percent of the cost of the Medicaid expansion and that will gradually drop to 90 percent in 2020.
Martinez warned that the state will need to scale back Medicaid if the federal government reduces its spending on the program, but she promised to safeguard services for children.
"If the federal reimbursement rate for Medicaid expansion is cut, we must protect our kids and protect our budget by ensuring that the most recent additions to the Medicaid program are the first ones moved off," Martinez said in a statement.
About a fourth of New Mexico's population currently receives health care through Medicaid — roughly 550,000 — but the program mostly covers uninsured children in low-income families along with the disabled and some extremely low-income adults.
The expansion, starting in January 2014, will make adults eligible with incomes of about $26,000 for a family of three or $15,400 for an individual.
A big factor in the Medicaid decision was whether the state could afford the potential long-term costs of expanding the program, but social services advocates touted the expansion as a way to boost the state's economy and strengthen health care.
"The right decision was made today for New Mexico's families, children, and economy," said Veronica Garcia, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children.
A study by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of New Mexico estimated that 6,000 to nearly 8,500 jobs would be created by 2020 by the expansion and it would generate from nearly $5 billion to $8.6 billion in economic activity.
"This really is a whole new world for access to health care in our state," said Kim Posich, Executive Director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.
The Human Services Department estimates an additional $6 billion in federal money should flow into the state from 2014 to 2020 because of the expansion. New Mexico will need to spend an extra $85 million to cover the planned Medicaid expansion through 2020, but agency officials say the state's costs for the program will increase far more than that amount partly because some Medicaid-eligible people haven't enrolled currently but are expected to do so as they learn about new health insurance requirements under federal law.
Associated Press writer Barry Massey in Santa Fe, N.M. contributed to this report.
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