Welfare Is Not ‘Insurance’


“We’re growing the health care safety net to help more people.”

That’s Human Services Department spokesman Kyler Nerison, boasting about how Medicaid expansion has pushed the share of New Mexico’s population without “health insurance” down to 10.2 percent.

Wait a second. Getting on a welfare program does mean one has “insurance.” And it’s not at all clear that, broadly speaking, Medicaid expansion means more “help” for New Mexicans. Access and quality problems are severe, and honest researchers have found verifiable positive outcomes from Medicaid enrollment tough to document.

So what’s going on here? New Mexico’s taxpayers are bearing the relentless burden of liberals’ obsession about “the uninsured.” For decades, the fact that some Americans lack health insurance garnered votes and power for Bernie Sanders-style populists. But for those willing to undertake the task, unpacking the data on the uninsured was revealing. Some were already eligible for Medicaid and/or other government programs. Some were illegal aliens. Some were young, healthy, and not at serious risk of an illness or injury. Furthermore, the duration of most uninsured periods was rather short. And charity and cash discounts helped the uninsured access care more than was commonly understood. No better evidence for this phenomenon existed than Oregon’s pre-Obamacare expansion of Medicaid. As Avik Roy noted, when a “lottery” was held to sign up new beneficiaries, “40 percent of those who ‘won’ … didn’t bother to sign up.”

Lack of insurance was a problem — not a crisis. And the solution was broad agenda of market-oriented reforms that would have dramatically lowered the cost of premiums, and this permitted more individuals and employers to purchase coverage.

Instead, we got Obamacare. Medicaid expansion, massive new mandates, and subsidized insurance through “exchanges.” It isn’t working. Then again, it couldn’t. A few months ago, the National Center for Policy Analysis’s John R. Graham wrote what is perhaps the best summary of the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”: “Obamacare is a welfare program camouflaged as a reformed health insurance marketplace.”

The Human Services Department predicts that by 2020, 43 percent of New Mexicans will be on Medicaid. But that’s just one part of the larger atrocity of taxpayer-provided healthcare. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 53.9 percent of residents here currently have “public health plan coverage.” That is the largest portion among the states, and far higher than our neighbors Utah (23.6 percent), Texas (28.3), Colorado (30.2 percent), Oklahoma (36.5 percent), and Arizona (41.0 percent).

Single payer, here we come!