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Older New Mexicans struggling to pay their health insurance premiums

The graying of America has had a significant impact on the affordability of health insurance in New Mexico, where health insurance premiums have more than doubled for some older residents.

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Among those hardest hit have been older customers of the state's Health Insurance Alliance (HIA), a program mandated by the state to guarantee that small businesses can purchase health insurance. Some customers have seen their premiums double.

Advocates for New Mexico's burgeoning elderly population are alarmed by the sudden increases. "We have the fifth fastest-growing elderly population in the nation and nearly 21 percent of New Mexicans age 60 and older live in poverty," says Michelle Lujan Grisham, director of the New Mexico State Agency on Aging. "I'm worried about age discrimination and the fact that older people are being priced right out of the market."

 

Grisham says she fears that the gap between the insured and uninsured is ever-widening in her state. In 2000, 29 percent of New Mexicans between the ages of 19 to 64 were uninsured, according to the United States Census Bureau, compared with a national average of 17 percent. The number of uninsured Nevadans is likely to continue to climb, given the uncertain national economic outlook.

According to Grisham, there are currently few affordable health insurance options for uninsured older New Mexicans. The main problems are that:

  • Those under 64 are too young to qualify for Medicare.
  • Many earn just enough money to prevent them from enrolling in Medicaid, but their incomes are too low to enable them to afford health insurance premiums.
  • Because of their age, they are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions that bar them from obtaining health insurance from individual health insurers.

Those who become uninsured when they lose their jobs also find it more difficult to replace their coverage by acquiring new jobs with employer-sponsored group health insurance. Grisham says she doesn't believe competition among commercial insurers can solve the health insurance affordability and availability problems in her state.

But there will be some relief for the 80,000 New Mexican seniors who don't have prescription drug coverage. New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson has signed legislation will permit New Mexicans age 65 and over to buy prescription drugs at the discounted price negotiated through a consolidated purchasing effort for state employees, government retirees, and public school workers and retirees. That law goes into effect May 15, 2002. Read Elderly New Mexicans get prescription drug discount

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