- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 13, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - The Latest on access to health care among Medicaid patients in New Mexico (all times local):

4:50 p.m.

Legislative analysts estimate New Mexico has spent an extra $5.4 million for Medicaid and cash food assistance benefits since 2014 as a result of a long-running class action lawsuit.

Staff for the Legislative Finance Committee announced Wednesday that additional benefits of $2.4 million have been paid out as a result of the 2014 ruling, with additional administrative costs.

The committee warned that upcoming court hearings could result in more significant sanctions and a partial takeover of the Human Service Department.

The so-called Debra Hatten-Gonzales lawsuit against the Human Service Department was brought in 1988 regarding eligibility for food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

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3:20 p.m.

New Mexico officials say Medicaid patients are resorting increasingly to emergency room visits for routine medical issues amid some gaps in provider networks.

The Human Services Department overseeing the state’s Medicaid program for the poor and disabled said Wednesday that the spike in emergency room use for routine medical conditions should not be seen as a long-term problem.

Human Services Secretary Brent Earnest cites a study of California Medicaid patients that shows a spike and subsequent large decline in emergency room use. He expects to see a similar outcome in New Mexico.

Emergency room costs for Medicaid patients increased by 17 percent in 2015 to $116 million from the previous year.

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2:30 p.m.

State government analysts say low-income Medicaid patients in New Mexico are waiting on average from three weeks to nearly two months to get an appointment with a doctor.

The Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday published a survey on appointments for new patients enrolled in Medicaid. It says the results and other studies raise concerns about barriers to health care access among the poor and disabled.

Medicaid enrollment has grown by two-thirds in the state’s main metropolitan area since Republican Gov. Susana Martinez agreed to expand coverage in 2014 under the federal Affordable Care Act. In some rural areas, enrollment has doubled.

Recent state reports show that Medicaid patients are increasingly resorting to hospital emergency rooms for relatively minor conditions that can be treated at urgent care clinics or doctor offices.

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