As Kari Armijo and Her Team Fumble Medicaid Unwinding – Thousands, Including DD Waiver Clients, Continue to be Denied Vital Services

L-R: Secretary-Designate Kari Armijo, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Senate Majority Leader, Senator Peter Wirth, and Senate Rules Committee Chair, Senator Katy Duhig.

Senators need to ask Kari Armijo some probing questions before rubber-stamping her appointment as Secretary of the New Mexico Health Care Authority.

Kari Armijo is Governor Michele Lujan Grisham’s pick to be Secretary of the newly named and structured Health Care Authority.

If Armijo is confirmed by the Senate, she will continue to receive an annual salary of $224,993 – which is about $100,000 more than she was paid as a deputy secretary about a year ago.

Senators need to question Armijo and hold her accountable for her performance.

The Senate Rules Committee meets this morning at 11:30 a.m. at the Roundhouse in Room 321, for a hearing on Armijo’s confirmation recommendation. (Click here for information to view the Senate Rules Committee Meeting.)

Over the last year, under her management, the agency has systemically eliminated access to essential services to thousands of the most vulnerable residents of the state.

The new HCA is the largest agency in state government – serving most New Mexicans in some capacity, and administering the delivery of billions of state and federal dollars.

It is also considered the most disorganized state agency.

(NOTE: The Legislature passed a measure last year renaming the Human Services Department as the Health Care Authority, and making some changes and the transfer of some divisions of the health department of state government into the new structure.)

Armijo has spent two decades working at this agency’s Medicaid mission, many of those years in a leadership position.

And for the past year during which she has been in charge of it all, the disorganization has worsened – putting at risk many of the state’s most vulnerable residents.

People caring for those with Developmental Disabilities are growing increasingly angry with the failure of Armijo to fix the continuing interruption of vital services because the HSD and its successor HCA planned poorly for the federal governments unwinding of COVID 19 Medicaid rules.

The Candle has spoken and listened to providers and advocates express their frustration, anger and fear that if they are quoted by name they or the people they care for will encounter retaliation from the administration.

One unnamed source stated they have clients who have been dropped from coverage for no good reason.

All of the waivers impacting the Developmental Disability community have been affected – traditional developmental disability waver, Mi Via self directed waiver, medically fragile, as well as the supports waver.

Another complained that many clients of the Waiver, “can’t even get their medications that they need to be stable – can’t get their dental work – can’t go see the doctor – can’t go see the therapist, because somebody in the Income Support Division can’t get their act together and they’re denying their eligibility.”

Providers complained that they have reached out to Kari Armijo and Developmental Disabilities Supports Division Director José Acosta to no avail – being passed along to phone numbers and intake formats that are essentially unresponsive.

“We get talked down to … like we are children. We are fighting for the clients we serve.”

And when providers and advocates call the agency and its contractors for help they are put on hold for literally hours – and to no avail.

Renaming the Human Services Department and leaving the same crowd in charge who have continuously failed their mission is already damaging lives.

HSD and HCA authorities, especially Kari Armijo who heads the agency, have known for more than a year this would be a challenge, yet failed to develop protections CMS warned them to put into place.

As a result of the incompetence of the leadership at HSD and HCA, vulnerable people are being cut off from services they desperately need.

A visit to the federal and state court dockets reveals the ineptitude and/or indifference by the leadership of this agency through several administrations of both Republican and Democratic Governors – including that of the current Governor.

Armijo Has Over Twenty Years with the Human Services Department – She Was Aware of The State’s Ongoing Failures in Administering the Medicaid Processes.

According to the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) Medicaid Enrollment and Unwinding Tracker, during the past year, among all states, New Mexico has consistently had the highest or near the highest percentage of people kicked off of Medicaid benefits for procedural reasons.

As noted above, Kari Armijo is not new to Medicaid.

She took over for Secretary David Scrase in late February.

She worked her way up through HSD – and has spent much of her time in senior leadership positions, being rewarded with substantial salaries – (see the her salary chart below compiled from data received from the State Personnel Office).

In the press release Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham issued announcing Armijo’s appointment to head the agency, the Governor wrote:

“Armijo has been with HSD for more than two decades. She has been Acting Secretary for the New Mexico Human Services Department since January 2023. Armijo was the Deputy Secretary for the department from 2020 – 2023. She spent 20 years with the New Mexico Medicaid program and left as the Deputy Director of the program where she served as the Affordable Care Act Implementation Director.”

Armijo had to see this re-certification snafu coming (associated with the unwinding of Medicaid) … and if she didn’t then something is seriously wrong.

She has direct authority over the Income Support Division (ISD) of the now Health Care Authority, where many of the problems seem to be emanating from.

The Candle found the following from the New Mexico Human Services Department Website:
“The mission of the Income Support Division (ISD) is to relieve, minimize or eliminate poverty and to make available certain services for eligible low-income individuals and families through statewide programs of financial assistance, food assistance, employment assistance and training services.

The Income Support Division is failing in its core mission.

The types of certification problems currently being experienced are not new, they go back further than even April of this year – like, way back, including during Armijo’s 20 years with the New Mexico Medicaid program.

The Secretary, her predecessors, and senior managers at the agency own the problems.

Kari Armijo Salary Over the Last Six Years

YearRole/HSD PositionSalary
January 2024Cabinet Secretary Designate$224,993
June 2023Interim Cabinet Secretary$169,721
January 2023Deputy Cabinet Secretary$124,363
January 2022Deputy Cabinet Secretary$116,105
January 2021Deputy Cabinet Secretary$114,400
January 2020GEN I$100,880
January 2019GEN I$96,990
January 2018GEN I$95,097
January 2017GEN I$95,097
Note: Between February and June of 2023, Armijo’s position and pay increased.