February 17, 2020

Bill to create fund for uninsured clears House

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Sparks flew between Republicans and Democrats Sunday during a lengthy debate on a health care tax bill that supporters say would help the uninsured.

Passed by the House on a vote of 41 to 25, HB 278 would create a health care fund for New Mexicans who are uninsured. The bill would replace a federal tax that Congress repealed. The state health insurance tax would result in $99.1 million to go to a new “health care affordability fund” and the remaining $25.6 million would go to the general fund.

Republicans tried twice to amend the bill to exempt small business owners from the bill. Bill cosponsor Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, said the proposal would “have to apply to the whole market.”

Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences, made the first attempt at amending the bill. But Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, moved to table it. Egolf called for a vote and the House voted to table the amendment 38 to 22. 

House Minority Whip Rod Montoya, R-Farmington, called Egolf’s behavior “outrageous.”

“You have pulled every trick in the book to stifle debate,” Montoya said.

Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdelena, said she was “on board to speak” prior to the vote.

“I had the mic in my hand. You did not call on me,” she told Egolf.

Dow expressed anger around the way her amendment was handled.

“I do not appreciate my amendment being tabled without debate. I left my family. I quit my job. I expect my amendment to be considered,” she said.

Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington, then made the second attempt at amending the bill. Egolf then said he had previously neglected to go to the bill sponsor to see if the proposed amendment was friendly or not. Armstrong said it was “unfriendly.”

The House voted to table the amendment on a40-21 vote.

According to Debbie Armstrong, 190,000 people in New Mexico are uninsured. Of those, about 50,000 are eligible for Medicaid but are not enrolled.

But that leaves 140,000 who are not insured and not eligible for Medicaid. The Democrat said this bill would help those experiencing what she called “the cliff effect,” meaning people who make just slightly above the poverty level. Those people often cannot afford private health insurance coverage but don’t quite qualify for Medicaid.

A coalition of nonprofits that serve the disenfranchised, called New Mexico Together for Health Care issued a statement praising the House for passing the bill. 

Last week HB 278 sparked controversy when the House Taxation and Revenue Committee passed the bill but all Republicans had left before the vote.

The bill will now move to the Senate.