New billboards aim to start conversation about abortion access

A grassroots advocacy group launched a billboard campaign Monday to promote keeping abortion safe and legal and to spark conversations about abortion access. The two billboards, from ProgressNow New Mexico*, will be on I-25 near the Budagher Drive exit, between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The signs face both north and south so drivers traveling in either direction will be able to see the message. The two highway billboards both say, “Rape is about power and control. So are abortion bans.”

The second billboard will be on the side of a truck driving around the state Capitol building and downtown Santa Fe Tuesday.

Luján throws support behind Medicare-for-all bill

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján announced Tuesday that he supports Medicare-for-all. The Assistant Speaker of the House, the fourth-highest position in Democratic leadership in the chamber, made the announcement as he seeks the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. His opponent in the primary, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, supports Medicare-for-all. Luján told NM Political Report between votes on Wednesday that he supports the legislation because it emphasizes “that healthcare is a fundamental right, not a privilege for the few.”

Toulouse Oliver said on Twitter she is glad that Luján “has come on board with the latest issue I’ve supported from Day 1.” Luján signed onto the bill sponsored by Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal.

Democrats fight back against lawsuit threatening health law

Among the first things Democrats did after officially taking control of the House was to express support for efforts to appeal a Texas district court decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

Obamacare premiums dip for first time. Some call it a correction.

After two years of double-digit price hikes, the average premium for individual health coverage on the federal health law’s insurance marketplace will drop by 1.5 percent for 2019, the Trump administration said Thursday. The announcement  marked the first time average premiums have fallen since the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act went into effect in 2014. It also comes during a bitter midterm congressional campaign season in which health care is a central issue following last year’s efforts by Republicans to repeal the ACA. Administration officials claimed credit for the price drop, saying it was due to their actions to make changes to the law. Health policy experts said it was a reaction to insurers’ huge profits following hefty premium increases on plans offered this year.

Congress tackles the opioid epidemic. But how much will it help?

The nation’s opioid epidemic has been called today’s version of the 1980s AIDS crisis. In a speech Monday, President Donald Trump pushed for a tougher federal response, emphasizing a tough-on-crime approach for drug dealers and more funding for treatment. And Congress is upping the ante, via a series of hearings — including one scheduled to last Wednesday through Thursday — to study legislation that might tackle the unyielding scourge, which has cost an estimated $1 trillion in premature deaths, health care costs and lost wages since 2001. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician by training and the health commissioner for hard-hit Baltimore, said Capitol Hill has to help communities at risk of becoming overwhelmed. “We haven’t seen the peak of the epidemic.

Trump administration proposes rule to loosen curbs on short-term health plans

Insurers will again be able to sell short-term health insurance good for up to 12 months under a proposed rule released Tuesday by the Trump administration that could further roil the marketplace. “We want to open up affordable alternatives to unaffordable Affordable Care Act policies,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “This is one step in the direction of providing Americans health insurance options that are more affordable and more suitable to individual and family circumstances.”

The proposed rule said short-term plans could add more choices to the market at lower cost and may offer broader provider networks than Affordable Care Act plans in rural areas. But most short-term coverage requires answering a string of medical questions, and insurers can reject applicants with preexisting medical problems, which ACA plans cannot do. As a result, the proposed rule also noted that some people who switch to them from ACA coverage may see “reduced access to some services,” and “increased out of pocket costs, possibly leading to financial hardship.”

The directive follows an executive order issued in October to roll back restrictions put in place during the Obama administration that limited these plans to three months.

Can cannabis treat opioid addiction? Lawmakers say state should allow it

New Mexico lawmakers injected a dose of political pressure Monday into an unwavering but so far unsuccessful effort to add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis in New Mexico. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn and Rep. Joanne Ferrary, both Democrats from Las Cruces, held a news conference at the Roundhouse to bring attention to companion memorials they are sponsoring, calling on Department of Health Secretary Lynn Gallagher to allow people with opioid dependence to obtain medical marijuana to help them break the chains of their addiction. “It is past time that this secretary do this,” Steinborn said. “People are dying every day in the state of New Mexico from opioid abuse, and medical marijuana has proven to be a safer treatment for any underlying conditions and certainly, hopefully, to step people down from opioid addiction into something safer that won’t kill them.” Twice, the state Medical Cannabis Program’s advisory board has recommended medical marijuana be allowed as a treatment for opioid addiction.

Legislature to study Medicaid Buy-In as way to help NM insurance

Supporters of a new health care proposal say it could help reduce the state’s uninsured rate by making health insurance more affordable. It’s called Medicaid buy-in and the New Mexico House of Representatives and Senate each recently passed memorials calling on the interim Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to look into its implementation. Medicaid buy-ins are essentially programs that allow those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid to pay premiums for a Medicaid-like program. What a New Mexico version of the program would look like isn’t yet known. That’s the point of the study, Rep. Deborah Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, told NM Political Report.

Udall to push for more funds for NM tribes

New Mexico U.S. Sen. Tom Udall spent about an hour Saturday morning listening to members of tribal communities and health care experts talk about what matters most in some rural areas regarding health care. A common theme emerged among participants: the need for more funding for tribal health care programs. If they don’t get more money, the people who rely on them are in trouble, they said. Topics ranged from basic health care needs to healthy food options to those who already struggle with diabetes. Warlance Foster, a Special Diabetes Program for Indians (SDPI) coordinator, told of a family member who, despite a life of sports and other physical activities, suffered an amputated leg due to diabetes. “We’re not asking for millions of dollars so we can live large, buy big houses and cars,” Foster said.

Trump administration relaxes financial penalties against nursing homes

The Trump administration — reversing guidelines put in place under President Barack Obama — is scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or place them in grave risk of injury. The shift in the Medicare program’s penalty protocols was requested by the nursing home industry. The American Health Care Association, the industry’s main trade group, has complained that under Obama inspectors focused excessively on catching wrongdoing rather than helping nursing homes improve. “It is critical that we have relief,” Mark Parkinson, the group’s president, wrote in a letter to then-President-elect Donald Trump in December 2016. Since 2013, nearly 6,500 nursing homes — 4 of every 10 — have been cited at least once for a serious violation, federal records show.