January 28, 2023

Bill to continue a cancer registry generates debate

The New Mexico State Capitol, or Roundhouse Wikicommons.

A bill that will, if enacted, appropriate $500,000 from the general fund to the board of regents of the University of New Mexico to support the operational infrastructure for the state’s human papillomavirus pap registry passed the House Health and Human Services Committee by 6 to 2 on Friday.

The one-page bill, HB 136, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, faced debate by some Republicans who sit on that committee on Friday morning. The registry monitors cervical cancer prevention in the state and asks for funds every year from the Legislature. The money is for operational funding to support the registry.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. It can cause cervical and other cancers. The registry informs clinicians and public health officials with data on “screening a preventable cancer,” according to the Fiscal Impact Report.

Dr. Cosette Wheeler, a UNM Regents professor at the UNM Health Sciences Center, said she has been coming to the Legislature for more than 10 years to ask for this appropriation.

“What we really need is recurring funds. The Legislative Finance Committee put in a recommendation to the budget for the $500,000 we’re talking about. The problem is we don’t have any stability except the pure driving force of me killing myself,” Wheeler said.

The program is considered a model for the nation, Wheeler said.

State Rep. Jenifer Jones, R-Deming, said she was concerned that the registry might include individual names.

Wheeler said she runs the registry and she “doesn’t know individual names.”

State Rep. Harlan Vincent, R-Ruidoso Downs, said he was worried about the security of the database.

Wheeler said the database is protected by “security levels that are at the highest levels.”

State Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she has been “bombarded” by calls and emails from LGBTQ individuals in the past who are worried about being on the registry.

Wheeler said she has experienced the opposite, that the LGBTQ community “feels like they need more cancer prevention.”

“Their social needs are not considered in many healthcare deliveries,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said that HPV is so common that in any given room 40 percent of individuals would likely test positive for it.

“It’s so common, you can’t believe it,” she said, adding that 25 percent of all women of reproductive age have abnormal pap smears.

Lord and Jones voted against the bill. Both said they need to do more research to understand it.