SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico has more than 2,000 career firefighters across the state, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee. And legislators are eyeing a bill to help cover their healthcare costs.
House Bill 495, a bipartisan bill, would create a new fund for firefighter healthcare. The bill would allow firefighters to access up to $5,000 per year to pay for insurance, deductible, etc.
Firefighters risk a wide rang of injury, like “strains and sprains, muscular pain . . . things that are also long-lasting or lifetime-lasting, like chemical burns, fire burns, frostbite, heat exhaustion, smoke or gas inhalation,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Joshua N. Hernandez (R-Rio Rancho) told the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Thursday, March 2. Given the high-risk nature of the job, he argued, the state should help out.
Firefighter Captain Martin Salazar also spoke to the committee on why they should support the bill: “It’s part of an ongoing recruitment effort to bring more firefighters to New Mexico.”
“We’re losing firefighters and talented people out of state,” Salazar said. “And it’s sacrificing the safety of our citizens.”
Legislators debated which government department should handle the distribution of funding. But ultimately, legislators in the committee voted in favor of the bill without too much debate.
If the bill continues to make it through the Legislature, it could ultimately cover a significant amount of firefighters’ healthcare costs. For example, $5,000 would be enough to cover most of the out-of-pocket expenses for single-coverage plans and a little less than half of out-of-pocket costs for family plans, according to an analysis by the Legislative Finance Committee.
But it wouldn’t cover the costs for volunteer firefighters. And it could still be some time before the bill gets funding.