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.

Udall questions Interior secretary on future of NM’s national monuments

Are New Mexico’s two national monuments safe from a reduction in size or elimination by President Donald Trump? That’s the question U.S. Sen. Tom Udall had for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Wednesday during a Senate subcommittee hearing. The Democratic senator is a staunch supporter of the designations of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and Rio Grande del Norte National Monuments, each of which are part of a review of national monuments ordered by the Trump administration earlier this year. “Will you commit to me today that you will respect the wishes of the vast majority of New Mexicans and maintain the existing boundaries of these two monuments?” Udall asked the former Montana congressman. Zinke said he would seek local input, referring to the process in the Bears Ears National Monument.

Senators slam GOP health care overhaul effort

Both of New Mexico’s U.S. senators slammed the recently-released Republican health care bill, saying it would hurt New Mexicans by damaging coverage. The two, both Democrats, also criticized the secretive process used by Republicans to craft the legislation. No public hearings are scheduled for the bill, and most Senators only got their first look at the language Thursday, days before the vote on the bill. Republicans hope to vote on the bill, which they dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, before the end of the month and the July 4th recess. The New York Times described the bill as structurally similar to the unpopular version that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year.

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.

No sign that Russians accessed NM voter systems

There’s no indication that New Mexico’s voter databases were improperly accessed, according to New Mexico’s secretary of state. This comes even as U.S. senators probed the issue in a hearing Wednesday morning. Wednesday morning, Jeanette Manfra, the acting undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that election systems in 21 states were targeted in a Russian cyber attack. declined to say which states were targeted or what, if any, data was accessed by the hackers. Jeh Johnson said that while interference by Russia “was unprecedented” in “scale and scope,” there was no indication that Russians changed any votes in 2016.

Toulouse Oliver will run for full term as SOS

In news that surprised no one, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Tuesday that she will run for reelection. “From modernizing campaign finance rules to increasing ballot access and voter education in our native and rural communities, we are making swift progress on many of the priorities I set early on,” the Democrat said in her press release. “I look forward to serving a full term for the people of New Mexico so that we can continue to combat dark money in politics, raise the bar for transparency and accountability in government and cement our sacred voting rights for every eligible citizen.”

No other candidate has announced their intention to run. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, won election in 2016, defeating Republican Nora Espinoza. The position is normally contested in non-presidential years, but the election was held in 2016 because Dianna Duran resigned from her position as Secretary of State hours before pleading guilty to criminal charges related to campaign finance.

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.

Discussing the special session’s budget deal, tax overhaul failure

This week, NM Political Report editor Matthew Reichbach was on Here & There with Dave Marash, discussing the recent special legislative session. The show appears on KSFR in Santa Fe and is available online for free. Legislators met during the brief special session to address the state’s budget, making sure it would be balanced, as required by the state constitution. One piece of legislation, championed by Gov. Susana Martinez and agreed to by reluctant legislators, used severance tax bond money to help cover a budget hole. Reichbach and Marash also discussed a tax overhaul proposal that did not clear a House committee.