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.

Public, officials agree on importance of addressing opioid addiction

A recent poll of New Mexicans showed a large majority adults in the state believe that opioid addiction is both a problem in the state and nationwide. The poll, conducted by Morning Consult and sponsored by Voices for Non-Opioid Choices in consultation with the National Association of County & City Health Officials, took place shortly ahead of the 2018 elections. It showed that 77 percent believe opioid addiction is a problem in the state, while 83 percent said it is a problem in the United States at large. Problems with opioid addiction and abuse in New Mexico is nothing new. For years, the state led the country in multi-generational heroin problems.

Wayne Lindstrom, the director of the Behavioral Health Services Division at the New Mexico Human Services Department, said that New Mexico is improving in rankings when it comes to opioid abuse.

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.

On her watch: Governor-driven understaffing keeps N.M.’s kids at risk

The Roundhouse, January 2011: Flanked by colorful bouquets, a pink and white corsage pinned to her dark blue suit, Gov. Susana Martinez invoked the blossoming of a new era for New Mexico in her first State of the State address. She was the nation’s first Latina governor, soon to be named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people. She had a plan for New Mexico and intended to execute it with a prosecutor’s precision. Her message: New Mexico was in a state of financial crisis. “No more shell games,” she announced to applause.

Lawsuit: New Mexico is wrongly denying child care benefits

Five New Mexico residents are suing the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD), claiming the state is effectively cheating eligible low-income families out of money to pay for child care. According to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in First Judicial District court in Santa Fe by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (CLP), CYFD is handing out child care assistance based on secretly formulated rules without clearly defined eligibility requirements, in violation of the state constitution. CLP brought the suit on behalf of five residents whose applications for child care assistance were denied. Olé, an Albuquerque-based community organizing group, is also a plaintiff. The complaint names Secretary Monique Jacobson, in her official capacity, as defendant.

Many grandparents raising kids locked out of state aid

ALBUQUERQUE — Joan Marentes knew her career in the Albuquerque Police Department was over the moment a state worker said she was ineligible for public assistance. Assigned to the Crimes Against Children Unit, Marentes was a decorated detective, named Officer of the Year in 2009 for her work keeping kids out of harm’s way. Often those same kids ended up placed in the care of grandparents or other relatives. Now, in an ironic twist, she had taken emergency custody of her own granddaughter after learning the child was being abused by her  parents. Like hundreds of other grandparents, Marentes trusted that the state would help her deal with the sudden financial stress of taking in a child.

A big cost to NM if Congress doesn’t act on children’s health program

If Congress fails to reauthorize a popular health insurance program, it will cost the state big money. But unlike in some other states, New Mexico’s children won’t lose health insurance. The Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, lapsed on Sept. 30. Since then, Congress has failed to agree on renewing the federally-funded program.

With agreement in hand, behavioral health CEO believed vindication was inevitable

Even in his final days of battling leukemia in early 2016, Jose Frietze was fighting for the youth services agency he founded in 1977. The state Human Services Department had accused the organization — Las Cruces-based Families and Youth Inc. — of potential Medicaid fraud and overbilling by $856,745 in 2013. A stop payment of $1.5 million in Medicaid funding for services already provided crimped FYI’s cash flow, leading to layoffs. And because of the accusations, FYI was forced to hand off part of its business to an Arizona company brought in by Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. Frietze’s daughters Victoria and Marisa remember how tough the allegations were on Frietze and their family.

Testing is identifying just 5% of kids poisoned by lead in NM

New Mexico is among the worst states when it comes to identifying all the children who have been poisoned by lead. That’s according to a study published last week in Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Nationwide, only 64 percent of lead-poisoned children under the age of five are identified by testing. In New Mexico, that number is much lower—just five percent. Lead paint and lead additive in gasoline were banned decades ago.