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Barbara Webber is the executive director of Health Action New Mexico, a non-profit bringing organizations and consumers together to influence policy that affects the health of all people living in New Mexico.

More than 214,000 New Mexicans — one-in-ten — navigate their daily lives, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, without health insurance.  But more than half of them are eligible but not enrolled in Medicaid or other free or low-cost health insurance.

A new proposal introduced in the legislature by State Representative Liz Thomson could change that. The Health Insurance Easy Enrollment Program, HB272, does just what the title says. It makes it easy for New Mexicans to be matched to eligible health plans, including Medicaid, for ourselves or others in our households each year when we file our taxes. 

While healthcare isn’t often top-of-mind until we need it, it is critical that everyone has it.  Under the Health Insurance Easy Enrollment Program, the tax and revenue department would give taxpayers an option to share limited information including income, age and address information, with the state’s health insurance exchange to be matched to free or low-cost health insurance options the taxpayer is already eligible for. 

For many of us, and especially for young people and low-income working families, our financial situations can change a lot year-over-year. But keeping up with the right open enrollment window and changing eligibility rules deters many New Mexicans who could benefit each year. Because health insurance subsidies are tied to income, tax time is a perfect time to ensure that health insurance options tied to income get a new look.  

And we know it works. In Maryland, 41,000 taxpayers checked the box when they filed their taxes, and 3,700 had obtained insurance coverage in just the first weeks of the program.  Early data indicates that young people, historically among the hardest to convince to enroll, are taking advantage at higher rates than during the traditional annual enrollment periods.

Persons and families without health coverage cost more to the health care system downstream because their untreated or undetected medical situation either deteriorates, requires more expensive treatment, reaches an acute phase requiring them to seek services in a more costly emergency room or hospital setting. High rates of uninsured also contribute to a less productive workforce and less successful school learning.  

This simple solution, a check box and quick sharing of data between agencies, is simple to implement and a big benefit for the public. Health Action New Mexico encourages you to reach out to your legislator and urge them to pass the simple Health Insurance Easy Enrollment Act so that next when we pay our taxes, the uninsured among us can enroll in health insurance, too.

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