Judge sees progress in state efforts on Medicaid, SNAP

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuitover the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces. 

He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules. Another mom with a teen daughter got benefits approved, but needed to wait more than two weeks for an EBT card. 

This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.

Left behind: Special needs students suffer when schools skimp on funding

QUESTA – When the fire alarm sounded before lunch in November of 2017, the staff at Alta Vista Elementary School knew they had a problem. A 6-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair needed to evacuate with the rest of his class. Unfortunately, the school had never purchased a chair that would let him leave the building. As the alarm kept sounding, teachers hovered nearby and debated what to do. The school had never put together an evacuation plan for the child.

State aims to halt Medicaid copays and premiums

The New Mexico Human Services Department is taking steps to reverse a number of Medicaid policies enacted by former Gov. Susana Martinez that state officials say would create unnecessary financial strain on hundreds of thousands of low-income patients and limit access to medical services and prescription drugs. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday she has directed the agency to seek approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to eliminate $8 copayments for patients receiving nonemergency services at hospital emergency departments or purchasing brand-name drugs, and $10 monthly premiums for about 50,000 adults covered by Medicaid under expanded eligibility rules. Both cost-share policies for patients in the state’s Medicaid program, called Centennial Care, were set to go into effect March 1. The copays would have effected about 650,000 people, according to a news release issued by Human Services spokeswoman Jodi McGinnis Porter. The agency sent a letter Tuesday to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, asking to halt those policies as well as a policy limiting eligibility for retroactive Medicaid benefits, which took effect Jan.

‘Contraception Deserts’ likely to widen under new Trump administration policy

LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — When Nikia Jackson needed to be screened for a sexually transmitted disease, she wanted a clinic that was reputable, quick and inexpensive. After searching online, Jackson, 23, ended up at the Obria Medical Clinics’ sparkling new facility in an office park in suburban Atlanta. She was unaware that the clinic does not offer condoms or other kinds of birth control beyond so-called natural family planning methods. Religious conservatives say these types of clinics are the future of women’s sexual health care in the United States.

On the (hiking) trail with Heinrich

Last weekend, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich and his wife Julie pulled up to an Albuquerque trailhead and were greeted by a group of eager supporters with hiking poles and hydration packs at the ready. Almost immediately, Heinrich became an impromptu trail guide, educating his constituents on the different native plants along the trail and which animals use them as food sources. At least twice, unsuspecting hikers recognized the affable sportsman who has worked in Washington, D.C. since 2009. One family hiking towards the top of the trail passed the Heinrich entourage on its way back to the trail head. As the two groups converged, one woman looked at Heinrich and asked, “Is it really you?

The Census struggles to count all New Mexicans. Here’s why it matters

You won’t find James Ironmoccasin’s house on Google Maps. To get to his place on the northeastern edge of the Navajo Nation, head east from the 7-2-11 gas station on Highway 64 in Shiprock, take the sixth turn into “Indian Village,” a neighborhood of small, unnumbered houses on a winding, ungraded and nameless dirt lane, and follow for about a quarter mile, then turn at the dilapidated corral of horses. If he’s expecting you, Ironmoccasin, his jet-black hair parted to one side and a string of bright, traditional turquoise beads hanging around his neck, will be waiting to flag you down. “If you are kind of familiar with the area, and you’re good with directions, it’s OK,” he says with a chuckle. “I try to give the easier route.”

Though his family has lived on this square plot of land for the past 60 years, he says he can’t remember a time when any one of them — not his parents, not his sisters, not his brother, and certainly not himself — was counted in the decennial, or 10-year, U.S. census.

Trump allows states to require work-requirements for Medicaid, no immediate impact on NM

The Trump administration announced Thursday it would allow states to impose work requirements on “able-bodied” adults who receive Medicaid. In New Mexico, it’s not clear if the Martinez administration will pursue such requirements, but if so, it would likely take months to go through the process. “Medicaid needs to be more flexible so that states can best address the needs of this population,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said in a statement. That center is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our fundamental goal is to make a positive and lasting difference in the health and wellness of our beneficiaries, and today’s announcement is a step in that direction.”

States would need to do so through a specific waiver with CMS.

New Mexico has been stopped from imposing such requirements in other programs. In 2016, a federal judge stopped the state from requiring people to work who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits because of a long-running federal lawsuit over the state’s inability to process aid.

States — And 9M kids — ‘In a bind’ as Congress dawdles on CHIP funding

Last week, Colorado became the first state to notify families that children who receive health insurance through the Children’s Health Insurance Program are in danger of losing their coverage. Nearly 9 million children are insured through CHIP, which covers mostly working-class families. The program has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, but Congress let federal funding for CHIP expire in September. The National Governors Association weighed in Wednesday, urging Congress to reauthorize the program this year because states are starting to run out of money. In Virginia, Linda Nablo, an official with the Department of Medical Assistance Services, is drafting a letter for parents of the 66,000 Virginia children enrolled in CHIP.

Medicaid expansion takes a bite out of medical debt

As the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress look to scale back Medicaid, many voters and state lawmakers across the country are moving to make it bigger. On Nov. 7, Maine voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Advocates are looking to follow suit with ballot measures in Utah, Missouri and Idaho in 2018. Virginia may also have another go at expansion after the Legislature thwarted Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s attempt to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid chief suggests feds are willing now to approve work requirements

The Trump administration signaled Tuesday that it would allow states to impose work requirements on some adult Medicaid enrollees, a long-sought goal for conservatives that is strongly opposed by Democrats and advocates for the poor. Such a decision would be a major departure from federal policy. President Barack Obama’s administration ruled repeatedly that work requirements were inconsistent with Medicaid’s mission of providing medical assistance to low-income people. The announcement came from Seema Verma, the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), who was scheduled to address the nation’s state Medicaid directors Tuesday. A press release issued in advance of the speech said allowing states to have work requirements is part of her plan to help give states more flexibility.