Representatives from the UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC) will be fanning out across the state in an effort to help uninsured New Mexicans, especially college students and their communities, better understand healthcare reform, thanks to a $375,000 grant from the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.
Staff from the HSC’s Health Extension Rural Offices, known as HEROs, will work with universities, colleges, junior college and a variety of community groups to educate them about changes and new insurance options under the federal Affordable Care Act. HEROs are located in communities statewide and the staff members live and work in the communities they serve.
New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service, with strong roots in every county and the three Area Health Education Centers, that cover the north, south and southwestern regions of the state are joining the effort. "We were approached by the Health Insurance Exchange because of our network,” said UNM Health Sciences Vice Chancellor for Community Health Art Kaufman, M.D.
Under the new healthcare law, thousands of uninsured New Mexicans will have the opportunity to enroll in an expanded Medicaid program or to enroll in plans offered through the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.
Yet while enrollment in the new insurance programs begins in October, an estimated 80 percent of those eligible to participate in them don’t realize they qualify or don’t know where to go for information or to seek help. Many organizations are working to educate New Mexicans about the new health insurance opportunities and now the state’s flag ship and land grant universities are joining the effort.
"It has been estimated that 344 people die in our state each year because they don't have health insurance,” Kaufman said.
“Further, research has shown that lack of insurance is a huge detriment to health in other ways.For instance, college students are more likely to drop out of school for health reasons if they aren't insured. One junior college administrator in New Mexico said she surveyed her student body and found that 75% had no health insurance.”
The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange is therefore interested in reaching out to the high number of students who don't have insurance.“We think there’s an added benefit in reaching out to this group,” said Kaufman. “All colleges train students for health careers.This is a group that we think would be eager to help their local communities and very effective in disseminating accurate information about health insurance. They could work with local churches, schools or places of business. As an example, our College of Pharmacy students came up with a great idea. Their faculty prepared them with health insurance information and literature before sending them out to local pharmacies to seek their help in serving as neighborhood centers of information dissemination.”