Art Kaufman, MD
Art Kaufman, MD, is vice chancellor for community health at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Credit: Paul Akmajian

Community health workers from the UNM Health Sciences Center will be fanning out across the state in an effort to help rural New Mexicans 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 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.

"We were approached by the health insurance exchange because of this network,” said Art Kaufman, M.D., the Health Sciences Center's vice chancellor for community health.

Under the new healthcare law, thousands of uninsured New Mexicans will have the opportunity to enroll for coverage under an expanded Medicaid program or under new plans offered through the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange.

Yet while enrollment in the new insurance programs began Oct. 1, 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, said Kaufman.  

"It has been estimated that 344 people die in this 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 example, college students are more likely to drop out of school due to a health condition if they aren't insured. As the largest health provider in the state, we believe we have a special responsibility to help in this educational effort.”

The HEROs program, part of the HSC’s Office of Community Health, will work to identify and educate groups around the state.

The New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange is particularly interested in reaching out to the high number of university students who don't have insurance.  They also know that community colleges across the state are training some of those same students in the healthcare professions.

 “Most community colleges are training people for health careers. This is a group that would be very effective in helping to educate people about their benefits. Other groups are isolated due to geography or income," Kaufman said. “We are putting together different plans to reach groups and we are looking at options that range from sending out messages to churches to hairdressers or barbers.”