NM settles $2.8M Medicaid overpayment claim for $485

As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella might have said, “Nevermind!”

More than four years after accusing Southwest Counseling Center of overbilling the state by $2.8 million in Medicaid reimbursements, the Human Services Department has settled with the former Las Cruces behavioral health provider for $484.87. SWCC was one of 15 health organizations accused of overbilling and potential fraud by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration in 2013. The state suspended Medicaid payments to the organizations pending an investigation, and outsourced behavioral health contracts to five Arizona companies, which effectively crippled the network of New Mexico behavioral health providers. All the while, the state kept an audit they used to justify the move secret, making it impossible for each organization to know what they were being accused of specifically. See a timeline and read of coverage of the Medicaid freeze here.

Latest GOP health care draft threatens NM Medicaid

SANTA FE, N.M. — The latest version of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare is being made available for review just one week before it is to be voted on in the Senate – and it contains drastic implications for Medicaid in New Mexico. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has enacted rules to bypass committee hearings on the bill, which supporters hope to get signed before the Fourth of July recess. If that happens, people on medical assistance in New Mexico face severe challenges, according to Edwin Park, vice president for health policy with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The emerging Senate bill, which is largely mirroring the House bill, would scale back the Medicaid program, and then the coverage levels that were even in place pre-Affordable Care Act would be rolled back as well,” Park said. The largest group of New Mexicans to be affected would be children.

Safety problems at a Los Alamos laboratory delay U.S. nuclear warhead testing and production

In mid-2013, four federal nuclear safety experts brought an alarming message to the top official in charge of America’s warhead production: Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s sole site for making and testing a key nuclear bomb part, wasn’t taking needed safety precautions. The lab, they said, was ill-prepared to prevent an accident that could kill lab workers, and potentially others nearby. Some safety infractions had already occurred at the lab that year. But Neile Miller, who was then the acting head of the National Nuclear Security Administration in Washington, says those experts specifically told her that Los Alamos didn’t have enough personnel who knew how to handle plutonium so it didn’t accidentally go “critical” and start an uncontrolled chain reaction. Such chain reactions generate intense bursts of deadly radiation, and over the last half-century have claimed nearly two dozen lives.

When resisting Trump, let’s all do better

For the last five months I’ve woken up furious every morning as the news comes on describing Donald Trump’s failures. Taking basic health care away from millions. Insulting our nation’s friends while siding with dictators. Ripping immigrant families apart for no reason. Discriminating against people for how they pray.

A near-disaster at a federal nuclear weapons laboratory takes a hidden toll on America’s arsenal

Technicians at the government’s Los Alamos National Laboratory settled on what seemed like a surefire way to win praise from their bosses in August 2011: In a hi-tech testing and manufacturing building pivotal to sustaining America’s nuclear arsenal, they gathered eight rods painstakingly crafted out of plutonium, and positioned them side-by-side on a table to photograph how nice they looked. At many jobs, this would be innocent bragging. But plutonium is the unstable, radioactive, man-made fuel of a nuclear explosion, and it isn’t amenable to showboating. When too much is put in one place, it becomes “critical” and begins to fission uncontrollably, spontaneously sparking a nuclear chain reaction, which releases energy and generates a deadly burst of radiation. The resulting blue glow — known as Cherenkov radiation — has accidentally and abruptly flashed at least 60 times since the dawn of the nuclear age, signaling an instantaneous nuclear charge and causing a total of 21 agonizing deaths.

New deportation rules claim mother, with no chance for goodbyes

Jeff Taborda lives in a faded green trailer in an old, but neatly kept mobile  home community in north Las Cruces. Taborda, 23, graduated in December from New Mexico State University with a degree in criminal justice, with ambitions to go into law enforcement and eventually join the FBI. He is lean and muscular, working out regularly with his younger brother, Steven. The home Taborda shares with his girlfriend is sparsely furnished, clean dishes in a rack in the sink. “As soon as I eat, I do the dishes,” he told visitors on a recent 100-degree  afternoon.

New study confirms (again): New Mexico’s methane hot spot largely tied to oil and gas pollution

In 2014, NASA scientists published their discovery of a methane “hot spot” hovering over New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. The 2,500-square-mile methane cloud is the largest area of elevated methane concentration ever measured in the U.S., and is so big scientists can spot it from space. While some have tried to debate the cause of the hot spot, it is more than mere coincidence that the San Juan Basin is one of the most productive natural gas fields in North America, and that oil and gas development is the leading industrial cause of methane emissions nationally. Manmade methane emissions are an urgent concern for scientists and policy makers since they are responsible for about a quarter of current global warming, which is why Scientists from NASA and NOAA embarked on a series of studies to try to pinpoint the source of New Mexico’s methane cloud. Jon Goldstein is the Director of Regulatory and Legislative Affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund
In 2016 NASA researchers concluded that many of the region’s highest-emitting sources were associated with the region’s oil and gas production and distribution infrastructure.

Black and voting Democratic: Not so fast

The New Mexico electoral landscape is taking shape to the extent that early indicators are suggesting a clear change of power. Republicans have ruled the state for the majority of the last eight years. However, in these upcoming elections the New Mexico Democratic Party can potentially end the nightmare here in the Land of Enchantment that is unfolding in earnest for the rest of the nation. The question swirling throughout the Black community is, does it remain loyal to a Democratic Party that is failing to champion their interests, concerns and placing the future of all Black Americans at risk? For example, since the confirmation of the new United States attorney general, the U.S. Department of Justice has relented on a commitment to reducing and preventing excessive use of force by law enforcement, reforming the justice system and reducing the number of incarcerated Blacks.

Trump administration quietly rolls back civil rights efforts across federal government

For decades, the Department of Justice has used court-enforced agreements to protect civil rights, successfully desegregating school systems, reforming police departments, ensuring access for the disabled and defending the religious. Now, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ appears to be turning away from this storied tool, called consent decrees. Top officials in the DOJ civil rights division have issued verbal instructions through the ranks to seek settlements without consent decrees — which would result in no continuing court oversight. The move is just one part of a move by the Trump administration to limit federal civil rights enforcement. Other departments have scaled back the power of their internal divisions that monitor such abuses.

In heart of Southwest, natural gas leaks fuel a methane menace

BLANCO, N.M. –  Most evenings, the quiet is almost intoxicating. The whoosh of the wind through the junipers, the whinny of horses in their stalls, the raspy squawking of ravens – those are the sounds Don and Jane Schreiber have grown to love on their remote Devil’s Spring Ranch. The views are mesmerizing, too. Long, lonesome ridges of khaki-colored rocks, dome-like outcrops and distant mesas rise from a sea of sage and rabbitbrush. The ranch and surrounding countryside are a surprising setting for an enduring climate change problem: a huge cloud of methane – a potent, heat-trapping gas – that is 10 times larger than the city of Chicago.