Lone GOP congressman in New Mexico backs health overhaul

Congressman Steve Pearce
Congressman Steve Pearce

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s lone Republican congressional representative joined the GOP majority Thursday in voting for an overhaul of President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Rep. Steve Pearce said he supported the bill to overhaul the Affordable Care Act because it will restore power to the states on health care issues.

The legislation would rework subsidies for private insurance, limit federal spending on Medicaid for low-income people and cut taxes on upper-income individuals used to finance Obama’s overhaul. It cleared the House by a 217-213 vote Thursday without Democrats’ support.

Pearce said many individuals currently are forced to purchase insurance they may not like, need or be able to afford. The GOP plan will “put the power back into the states’ hands so they can decide what is best for their unique populations,” he said in a statement.

New Mexico insurance regulators and advocacy groups on poverty issues have warned the GOP plan would shift costs for Medicaid onto the state general fund in coming years, likely leading to reductions in health insurance coverage. The state’s uninsured rate has been cut in half since 2013 under the expansion of Medicaid.

“If the bill moves through the Senate and to the president’s desk, New Mexico will be forced to make an unacceptable choice: come up with an extraordinary amount of Medicaid funds every year, in an already dire budget situation, or ration healthcare,” said Abuko Estada, of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in a statement Thursday.

Prominent New Mexico Democrats warned the legislation would put health care coverage in jeopardy for financially vulnerable New Mexico residents.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas said the bill would “effectively bankrupt” the state and unravel crucial health safeguards, in a letter to U.S. Senate leaders.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., called the GOP bill shameful and predicted a political backlash.

Republican New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez reiterated her support for a federal health care overhaul and said it was important to track changes to the GOP legislation as it moves to the Senate.

“Obamacare has been a disaster,” she said. “We need to make sure that the (insurance) premiums are lower, that it doesn’t hurt small business because it’s so expensive and that we’re also taking care of the most vulnerable.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in March that the GOP health bill would end coverage for 24 million people over a decade, while reducing the federal deficit. The measure was revamped over the past few weeks to satisfy most hardline conservatives and some centrists Republicans.

A CBO estimate for the cost of latest version of their bill was not ready before the House vote.