COVID-19 has created a crisis that has caused many New Mexicans to fear for their health and economic security. That is why, working with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance is doing everything in its power to provide relief and protection to New Mexico’s families, workers and businesses.

Because of our staff's actions, New Mexicans with private insurance regulated by OSI cannot be charged for testing or treatment of COVID-19 by the provider or their insurance company. We have also urged self-insured plan administrators to avoid testing or treatment charges.

We’ve also taken steps to keep New Mexicans from losing their health insurance because they can’t afford the premium. We’ve asked all insurance companies to suspend cancellations and nonrenewals during this emergency, or at a minimum, provide extended grace periods for premium payments.

If you don’t have health insurance, sign up today. It may be more affordable than you think:

  • No-cost Medicaid coverage is available for low-income New Mexicans at yes.state.nm.us or 855-637-6574.
  • If your income is too high for Medicaid, most people can get discounted private health insurance through the state’s health insurance marketplace, beWellnm. You can sign up at bewellnm.com or 833-862-3935 within 60 days of losing your health insurance. Call beWellnm if you have experienced a significant loss of income to see if you qualify for coverage discounts. Native Americans can enroll anytime.
  • If you don’t qualify for either of those programs, you can sign up for coverage through the New Mexico Medicaid Insurance Pool at nmmip.org or 844-728-7896.

Our goal is to be sure as many New Mexicans as possible are tested for COVID-19, and if they test positive, they have access to treatment without cost barriers.

Our health care system is under significant strain from the pandemic, so our order also requires insurance plans cover out-of-network services and facilities. We have exercised our authority to make sure COVID-19 patients are protected from surprise billing. We also want you to be able to access health care without leaving home, so insurers must reimburse health care providers for telemedicine and telehealth services — including behavioral and mental health services — just as they would pay for regular office visits.

To help New Mexicans navigate health insurance issues during this crisis, on May 1 the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance launched a COVID-19 Health Insurance Call Center. Call us at 833-415-0566 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday for help with insurance issues and reliable information about signing up for coverage.

While health is our top concern, OSI also has ordered auto insurance companies to reduce premiums since New Mexico drivers are not driving as much. Insurers that cover businesses impacted by the pandemic are to make adjustments and reduce premiums appropriately given the new business realities.

New Mexico is resilient, and OSI is doing its part to make sure we get through this crisis together. Call us toll free at 833-415-0566 if you need assistance on a COVID-19 or health insurance matter.

Russell Toal is the New Mexico superintendent of insurance.

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(1) comment

George Welland

I agree with the first sentence of this press release, "COVID-19 has created a crisis that has caused many New Mexicans to fear for their health and economic security..." However I think the state could do much better for both the public health and state economy. A matter of fact the key to surviving the necessary (draconian) health measures would be better facilitated through liberalized state jobless benefits, than obscure marginal health insurance programs, i.e., Pay More Jobless Workers More Benefits.

Given the impact of the tourism and energy sectors upon New Mexico's economy, then expect high unemployment for a while (especially if Covid rates don't decline); but despite the Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFCRA) and Coronavirus Aid Relief & Economic Security Act (CARES) to liberalize state unemployment insurance (UI) laws, no laws have been amended; and the lack of action by state officials is what is surprising! The state UI program should have been changed a long time ago to pay all who are unemployed (all except those fired for cause or quit without good reason).

I repeat, the state should, "PAY ANY WORKER WHO WASN'T FIRED FOR CAUSE, AND ANYONE WHO QUIT FOR COMPELLING PERSONAL REASONS." It'd be good health and economic policy to pay people to stay home until Covid-19 is better understood. Contrary to employers who hold out workers as props against business closures, such closings may better serve everyone. As for the demagoguery of paying bonuses to those who return to work, would that include payouts to next of kin for hospital and/or funerary costs, to compliment the other idea being floated of giving businesses immunity over Covid lawsuits? Arguably, the state needs to liberalize UI laws in order to facilitate stay-at-home orders, amidst hardship for workers in the hospitality and tourism industries. At the same time there could be more relief for non-essential businesses like bars and tattoo parlors, but on the condition, they stay closed or partially closed. I can't abide health hazards masquerading as commerce which, unable to adapt despite government handouts, resort to exploiting local residents and the working class. In the face of growing income inequality, and rising housing and health care costs, there's a need for greater economic security, but short of guaranteed universal income and health care, liberalizing UI may be the only way to deal with emergencies and business cycles.

Unfortunately, we have UI programs that are intentionally complex, punitive, and designed to delay and deny benefits to keep payroll taxes low and subject employees to the whims of their employers. Although the $600.00 federal bonus may be gone in whole or part, state laws can still be changed to help individuals and the economy. The current system of helping individuals and their families is just a feel-good component of the program; because it's not sufficient without the federal bonus and additional weeks; but the real point of UI (since its inception, albeit now only because it's greatly expanded under the CARES Act) is to improve the overall economy by helping as many individuals as possible!

Currently UI laws punish workers who quit to take care of family members, unless directly due to Covid. Quitting for other illnesses or compelling reasons don't qualify, e.g., lack of transportation or typical household emergencies. Additionally, if your spouse is injured in a car accident and you quit because you don't have approved leave to care for him or her, then you'll be disqualified from UI. Until this Spring everyone disqualified since last Summer, for quitting to care for family, are still disqualified from benefits unless they purge the disqualification. There are only a few (federally mandated) personal circumstance for quitting, that allow benefits; and again, these are very few*; but during a pandemic there should only be a few reasons NOT to pay benefits. e.g., discharge for cause and quitting without good reason! If you quit without notice (let's say to go fishing), you'd be disqualified from benefits, just as if you quit to take care of an aging parent, but in either case you could re-qualify. The original disqualification can be purged by working again, earning five times your weekly benefit amount, and filing to re-open your claim if you're not at fault for the new separation. The problem with this is it entices employers to collude with employees to game the system (maybe subsidizing a group's hunting trip) or worse, large scale fraud! Meanwhile, single parents with kids never re-qualify as they become indentured servants to temporary help firms. The same could be true for someone who quits to care for an elderly relative to keep them out of a nursing home (to avoid Covid). Even in normal times the notion of ensuring perpetual temporary servitude as way to make the system appear forgiving belies the practical reality that many forego seeking benefits unless they know in advance that they're eligible. Otherwise chances of being disqualified cause many to wait until it's more likely they're eligible, if they need UI in the future, rather than repeating the application process. Thus, being able to purge a disqualification is rather meaningless from the start and more of an administrative convenience for the state UI office and staffing agencies. Shockingly, a refusal to accept certain jobs over fears of infection has even been grounds to stop paying UI!

Politicians and employers in this state must know what's going on; but they do nothing or are satisfied with the present arrangement, even during a pandemic or recession when there are no jobs (hence the work search requirement was waived); so a denial of benefits awaits those who quit, until they meet the impossible task of finding another job, earning five times their weekly benefit amount, and avoid having to quit again? BUT HOW DO DISQUALIFIED WORKERS RE-QUALIFY DURING A PANDEMIC WHEN THERE ARE NO JOBS TO PAY ENOUGH TO REMOVE THE DISQUALIFICATION! Furthermore, what's the point, since there is no retroactive payment of weeks claimed for previously disqualified weeks? This has been pointed out to state officials, but apparently their attitude is, "Let them eat cake, if they can find it at the food bank!" The compassionate and reasonable thing to do is to grant benefits to those who quit for compelling personal reasons for as long as the pandemic exists (to coincide with waiving the work search and paying the "waiting week"). The mere appearance of being compassionate does not help the individual, but more people with actual income supports the entire economy. Remember this if the school year doesn't resume as normal! Additionally, a requirement to stay home could reduce or disqualify benefits for those who fail to wear masks or attend large public gatherings (in other words the carrot and stick of UI laws could be to promote public health as much help individuals and the economy).

Life under a pandemic is reaching a point where closing things down again without liberalizing jobless benefits would be both cruel and folly! The corporate welfare of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) temporarily paid employers to keep workers on the job (usually at reduced hours with make-work of cleaning while exposing themselves to others, instead of preparing for new ways of doing business), but employees should have been allowed to go home, stay safe, and take care of their families. Eviction moratoriums and subsidizing a couple of months of wages was wasted because we didn't understand the virus or proper hygiene, but if lock downs had been instituted earlier and longer, then we'd might have reduced the unemployment rolls, along with Covid hospitalizations, and deaths. The impact of clothing more workers with greater economic security through liberalized UI laws is analogous to everyone wearing face masks, it literally covers more people and protects the entire population. Congress rightly increased and expanded jobless benefits, although PPP expenditures were dubious, but hopefully Congress will provide more direct relief to workers. Likewise, New Mexico's UI laws need to be reformed to pay workers who quit for valid personal reasons (even if only temporarily during the pandemic or as partial awards). Thereby the UI program could promote the true interests of the entire state by paying jobless benefits as much as for job loss through no fault of one's own personal situation; plus promote public health for adhering to a quarantine; and reducing the social cost of caring for workers' families as well as the macro-economic risks to their landlords and other creditors.

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Footnote* - The few non work-related personal reasons are: quitting due to pregnancy; relocating with a military spouse who's been transferred; & domestic abuse (although the Unemployment Insurance Modernization Act of 2009 also encouraged states to adopt eligibility rules for taking care of sick family members).

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