A Moral Choice: As pressure mounts, faith sustains veteran ABQ doctor who performs third-trimester abortions

If Curtis Boyd lives by one professional mantra, it’s this: Unless a woman has full autonomy over her body, she lacks full citizenship and lives instead as a second-class citizen. The controversial and celebrated abortion provider explains this thoughtfully on a hot, dry Fourth of July day in his Albuquerque office. A wiry man of 80 years, Boyd wears a gray surgical gown and says he’s working the holiday because the type of procedure that his clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is known for requires multiple days. The clinic sits near I-25 on Lomas Boulevard, a crowded east-west thoroughfare on the edge of downtown Albuquerque. Across the street looms a pink billboard paid for by the group Prolife Across America.

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.

Martinez approval rating ticks up slightly, but she remains near bottom

Gov. Susana Martinez’s approval ratings bumped up slightly in the latest results from Morning Consult.

The poll showed that Martinez’s approval rating among registered voters moved back toward even, with 44 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval and 10 percent undecided. Martinez is the 10th-least popular governor out of 49 polled. In the Morning Consult’s April poll, 44 percent approved of Martinez’s job performance while 48 percent disapproved. The difference in results is within the poll’s margin of error. While Martinez is near the bottom of the ratings, she is well ahead of those at the very bottom—Kansas’ Sam Brownback and New Jersey’s Chris Christie have approval ratings of just 25 percent against disapproval ratings of 66 percent and 69 percent.

Feds to look into behavioral health services in NM

The federal government will take a look into New Mexico’s behavioral health services, according to the four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation. In a letter last month to Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich and Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ben Ray Luján, the federal Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson confirmed the upcoming review. “OIG will review the extent to which behavioral health providers are included in the States’ managed care plans and the types of care offered by these providers,” Levinson wrote in the June 28 letter.

Closing arguments filed in lawsuit against Gov. Martinez

Lawyers for the Santa Fe Reporter and Gov. Susana Martinez have submitted written closing arguments in a long-running court battle over public information and records. The Reporter sued Martinez in 2013, alleging she and her staff discriminated against the paper by refusing to communicate with its journalists and violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) by refusing to turn over records related to pardons, her schedule and other public business. The paper’s attorneys argued that the stonewalling began, ironically enough, after publication of a cover story critical of the administration’s lack of transparency. The unusual case has received wide attention, including from numerous state and local news organizations and from the Columbia Journalism Review. A victory for the newspaper could set new transparency standards for New Mexico state government; a win for the governor would mean some vindication for an elected official who has touted hers as “the most transparent administration in state history.”

A three-day bench trial in the courtroom of state District Judge Sarah Singleton of Santa Fe concluded in April, setting the stage for both sides’ lawyers to sum up their cases in writing.

The slow-motion unraveling of New Mexico’s Medicaid crackdown

There’s no getting around it. Four years after Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration charged 15 behavioral health organizations with potentially defrauding the state’s Medicaid program, its case has experienced a slow-motion unraveling. No Medicaid fraud was ever found. And those eye-popping estimates that added up to $36 million the organizations had overbilled Medicaid? In the summer of 2017, the Human Services Department (HSD) is seeking drastically lower reimbursements for overbilling the public health insurance program for low-income residents, a review of public records and state court documents has found.

In new wolf plan, feds give states power on releases

Just a week after the announcement that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle would be reassigned, the agency issued a notice saying it will give states the authority to decide where and when Mexican gray wolves can be released. Related story: Interior Department reorganization will hit New Mexico’s landscapes, communities

On Thursday, the agency released a draft revision to its Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan, which guides plans to remove the wolf from protection under the Endangered Species Act. Under the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico has opposed wolf reintroductions, and in 2011, the Game Commission ended the state’s participation in the program. The commission also voted to stop the federal government from releasing any new captive-raised wolves in the state and sued. A federal judge then blocked any new releases.

State makes ‘shockingly little progress’ in mending SNAP scandal

More than one year after three top state officials refused to answer questions in federal court about fraud allegations and nine months after a federal judge held their cabinet secretary in contempt of court, the state Human Services Department (HSD) appears to still be seriously mishandling how it processes federal benefits to New Mexico’s poor. This includes an apparent department directive instructing caseworkers to limit interviews with those enrolled in and seeking federal benefits and lie to their superiors about it. Now, the advocacy organization representing plaintiffs in a decades-long lawsuit against HSD is asking a judge to impose monetary sanctions on HSD and its secretary, Brent Earnest. The call for sanctions comes over the department’s alleged failures to meet federal guidelines on processing Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Update: Special master: HSD staff shakeup needed to address SNAP problems

Medicaid is the federal health care program for the poor while SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, provides federal food aid to the poor.

NM keeps warming but leadership won’t come from feds, state

So far this month, New Mexicans have experienced record high temperatures, dangerous dust storms and wildfire evacuations. Saturday night, a haboob struck Las Cruces, and last Monday, six people died when a dust storm led to a 25-car accident on Interstate-10. In our warming world, these conditions—piled one on top of another—won’t be unusual. According to NASA, May 2017 was the second warmest on record, just 0.05 degrees Celsius cooler than last May. Already, summer temperatures in New Mexico are 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in the 1970s.

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.