FARMINGTON, N.M. (AP) - San Juan County is spending more providing health care for residents than it spends on its sheriff and detention center.
More than a quarter of the northwestern New Mexico county's residents lack insurance.
A U.S. Census Bureau report shows more than 33,000 San Juan County residents lacked insurance. Only heavily populated Dona Ana and Bernalillo counties had more uninsured people. Only Catron, Harding and McKinley counties had a higher percentage of uninsured residents.
The high number of uninsured is costing taxpayers in San Juan County, with many residents receiving assistance from the county's Indigent Health Care Program. Program Director Liza Gomez tells the Farmington Daily Times (http://bit.ly/PP4T6O ) that use of the program has steadily increased in recent years.
In the 2012 fiscal year, 2,058 people accessed indigent health care funds, Gomez said. Those people submitted $9.8 million in claims for the fiscal year, which ended June 30.
Uninsured patients cost everybody, Gomez said.
"Uninsured folks contribute to the rising cost of health care," she said, adding that caring for uninsured patients results in higher premiums on residents who are insured.
In New Mexico, 22.6 percent of adults under age 65 were without health insurance in 2010. San Juan County was among the highest in the state, with 28.9 percent uninsured.
Los Alamos County was easily the lowest, with only 4.9 percent of residents uninsured. That area is home to many federal employees.
The data does not include senior citizens, who are universally covered by the federal Medicare program.
There was a 75 percent increase in the cost of san Juan County's indigent health care program from the 2011 fiscal year, and the trend is expected to continue.
The county budgeted $16 million for the current fiscal year and it now has the largest operating cost of any program in county government, surpassing the sheriff's office and the detention centers, according to county documents.
Even higher costs are expected.
"I don't think we've peaked," Gomez said.
Information from: The Daily Times
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