March 21, 2016

Odds and Ends: HSD boss talks behavioral health shakeup

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—HSD Secretary talks behavioral health shakeup.

Here at NM Political Report, we’ve been following the behavioral health shakeup that came after the state Human Services Department decided to cut off Medicaid funding for 15 providers, citing “credible allegations of fraud.”

Since then, several went out of business and the Attorney General exonerated 13 of the groups.

While he wasn’t at the helm at the time, legislators on the Legislative Finance Committee still wanted an update on the process from the department’s secretary.

HSD Secretary Brent Earnest explained that there was “still some overbilling” with those providers who were cleared and there was an ongoing administrative process to deal with the overbilling. He was less willing to say what that process was, beyond saying it would be “months more than years” before the situations were resolved and that currently OptumHealth is holding the funds.

Senate Finance Committee chairman John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, was the first to ask when the money would be returned.

“When is this going to happen?” He asked. “Because it’s not going to be returned as quickly as it was taken away.”

There are also a number of companies who have filed suit in federal court.

“This is really critical,” State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, said of the funding to the companies. “We know some who haven’t made it.”

—Sen. Tom Udall was among the delegation to join President Barack Obama in the historic trip to Cuba.

One person who didn’t go? U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney. The California Democrat was on the plane during a 1971 hijacking by three men accused of killing a New Mexico State Police officer; one, Charlie Hill, is still in Cuba.

We spoke to McNerney last year, as diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba began to thaw. He called on Cuba to allow for the extradition of Charlie Hill to face trial for the killing of Robert Rosenbloom (the other two allegedly involved have since died).

McNerney spoke to NPR last week about the hijacking.

—On the marijuana front, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit from Oklahoma and Nebraska over Colorado’s law that legalized recreational marijuana.

The Drug Policy alliance responded.

“The Supreme Court’s rejection of this misguided effort to undo cautious and effective state-level regulation of marijuana is excellent news for the many other states looking to adopt similar reforms in 2016 and beyond,” Tamar Todd, Director, Office of Legal Affairs for DPA, said in a statement. “Other states are looking to what Colorado has accomplished: the drops in racially disparate arrests, the criminal justice dollars saved, and the tax revenue raised and want to adopt similar marijuana law reforms. The dismissal of this action means that the four states that have adopted ballot initiatives by decisive margins to tax and regulate marijuana for adults, as well as the many states that have adopted laws to regulate medical marijuana, can proceed without interference at this time.”

In New Mexico, efforts to legalize marijuana made it to the Senate floor for the first time, but the proposed constitutional amendment failed to pass.

It’s an issue that will come back in future years and even opponents concede that marijuana will be legal at some point.