ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new study shows uninsured patients in New Mexico are often charged up to ten times more for medical treatments than insured patients for the same services. The study was presented to the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday.

“Over 200,000 New Mexicans are uninsured which of course, makes it more likely that they will incur medical debt when they do need to access medical care,” says Nicolas Cordova, healthcare director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “One of the biggest barriers to accessing healthcare is, unfortunately, medical debt.”

At the Roundhouse Tuesday, healthcare advocates presented a new study that showed uninsured New Mexicans are often paying a lot more for medical treatment than someone with health insurance or government health plans for the same services. The study looks at the prices of 17 different medical services across 43 New Mexico hospitals.

The services they’re looking at include things like CT scans, emergency room visits, and cardiovascular procedures. Researchers say a pattern emerged in the numbers. “The pattern that you might suspect [is] that frequently uninsured patients are charged higher prices. The higher prices may be labeled ‘cash discounts’ or ‘self-pay discounts’ or other kind of discounts but they’re generally higher,” says researcher Fred Hyde, M.D., of Fred Hyde and Associates, Inc.

One example in the study showed that for a certain coronary artery stent, the average list price was around $85,000 but the average commercial health insurance payments totaled only around $44,000. This means the uninsured patient was stuck with a bill that was nearly double what the insured patient was charged.

“The variability in these charges….the most important from the public policy point of view to this unpredictability keeps people from accessing healthcare. That’s the bottom line,” Hyde says.

So, why are the rates so different? The study says insurance companies and government plans negotiate with hospitals to pay much lower prices. “In some hospitals, for some particular, some codes, these charges can be six, seven, eight times, ten times what Medicare would actually pay,” Hyde says. “There’s no rhyme or reason to these things except that you can generally say what the uninsured will be paying is higher than almost every commercial health insurance payment and there is little relationship to the actual cost of the service.”

The state passed the Patients Debt Collection Act in 2021, which bans hospitals from suing low-income patients or sending them to collections when they don’t pay their medical bills. However, lawmakers took out a provision that would stop pricing discrimination practices. Now, advocates are asking lawmakers to continue studying hospital charges to see if more legislation is needed.