House committee approves bill to create unified health care authority

By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican

A bill that would blend several divisions from various state agencies into a new health care authority is moving closer to reality. Members of the House Health and Human Services Committee voted 6-3 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 16, which would allow the state to lay out a plan to rename the Human Services Department as the Health Care Authority Department and add a number of health-related entities from other state agencies. 

The refashioned department would be charged with finding and buying the most affordable health care plans for state and public employees and their family members. There are 180,000 public and state members enrolled in the public employee benefit plans who benefit from health insurance offerings negotiated by the state, according to Department of Human Services data. 

The legislation — prompted by a call from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to create a state health authority — would not affect health care plans or costs for private or nonprofit businesses or those who work for them. 

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, told committee members during Friday’s hearing that different departments and divisions within those departments, are purchasing health care plans on their own. “Each entity has the authority to purchase [health care],” she said. “They are not required to act together.

Rural healthcare bill heads to House

A bill to establish a grant-making program to enable providers to set up new services in rural counties passed the House Health and Human Services Committee unanimously on Friday. SB 7, sponsored by state Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos, is a bill supported by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office, Stefanics said. It would create a grant program within the New Mexico Health Department that would provide grants to provider groups, clinics and hospitals who are expanding care with new programs but operating at a loss. The program would only be available in counties with less than 100,000 population. Urban providers who want to establish a mobile unit or telehealth options in rural communities may also apply, Stefanics said.

Bill to remove barriers to STI testing clears first House committee

A bill to eliminate copays, cost sharing and deductibles to remove barriers to sexually transmitted infection testing passed the House Health and Human Services Committee 7-3. Bill cosponsor state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D-Taos, said that if SB 132 is enacted, it will help reduce the rising number of STIs in the state by removing barriers to testing. The STI Prevention and Treatment Act would enable individuals to be more likely to get tested and treated, which becomes a preventive measure since most STIs do not exhibit symptoms but can lead to later issues such as infertility. 

State Rep. Stefani Lord, R-Sandia Park, said she could not support the bill because it wasn’t fair to cancer patients, individuals with dementia and individuals living with AIDS. 

State Rep. Joanne Ferrary, D-Las Cruces, asked if the bill would enable School-Based Health Centers to offer STI testing and treatment. 

Expert witness Kayla Herring, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said the bill does not mandate that and that School-Based Health Centers are “handled at the individual school level.”

The bill heads next to the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee.

Bill to eliminate gross receipts tax on infant diapers clears first committee

A bill that would end gross receipts tax on diapers received bipartisan support and cleared the House Health and Human Services Committee on Monday. HB 222 seeks to eliminate gross receipts tax on infant diaper sales in New Mexico. State Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, sponsors the bill. State Rep. Joshua Hernandez, R-Rio Rancho, is also a sponsor of the bill. He said during the committee hearing that families in New Mexico are paying “$1,000 annually for this basic necessity.”

He called it a “crushing” cost and said that diapers are not covered by either Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program nor the Women, Infants and Children Program.

Reproductive access bill heads to House Chamber next

The House Judiciary Committee passed the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care bill with two amendments by a party line vote of 7 to 4. HB 7 will, if enacted, ensure that all individuals in the state can access reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care and that if an individual is discriminated against in seeking that care, the individual can seek legal remedy. Rep. Linda Serrato, a Democrat from Santa Fe, sponsored the bill and has said frequently that the bill will, if enacted, prevent a patchwork of healthcare across the state. The cities of Clovis and Hobbs and Lea and Roosevelt counties have passed anti-abortion ordinances that impact abortion clinics’ ability to apply for licenses in those political subdivisions and also place restrictions on medication abortion. Clovis Mayor Mike Morris spoke during public comment on the bill and said the bill “takes away home rule.”

He asked that the committee, if unable to vote no on the bill, “preserve our local authority to reflect the values of the citizens,” he said.

Bill to protect those seeking abortion or gender-affirming care from discrimination advances

A bill to prevent discrimination for individuals seeking abortion care or gender-affirming care in New Mexico cleared the House Health and Human Services Committee by 7-3 on Friday. HB 7, Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care, is intended to protect individuals who seek abortion care and gender-affirming care from discrimination by any public body.  Rep. Linda Serrato, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor of the bill. The bill will head to the House Judiciary Committee next. The bill generated considerable public comment and committee debate. Questions came from three Republicans on the committee, Jenifer Jones of Deming, Stefani Lord of Sandia Park and Harlan Vincent of Ruidoso Downs.

A bill to fill service gaps in sexual assault programming passes first committee

A bill that will help fill gaps created by reduced federal funding for sexual assault services in New Mexico passed the House Health and Human Services Committee with no opposition on Wednesday. HB 133, Recruit Sexual Assault Service Providers, will, if enacted, provide $2 million from the general fund for Fiscal Year 2024 to New Mexico to recruit and retain sexual assault service providers in New Mexico. The New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission would receive the funding. Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor of the bill but Rep. Liz Thomson, also a Democrat from Albuquerque, presented the bill before the committee on Trujillo’s behalf. “This is a very simple bill,” Thomson said.

Bill to continue a cancer registry generates debate

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.

Funding for sexual assault programs passes during legislative session

With relatively few reproductive healthcare bills before the 2022 legislative session, only one made it through intact. HB 32, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, which eliminates gross receipts tax, sometimes referred to as a sales tax, on feminine hygiene products, was grafted into HB 2, the general appropriation bill. The elimination of the GRT effectively, in layman’s terms, eliminates any sales tax to the products, which Trujillo sees in broader terms of civic engagement and political access. Trujillo said she wants to see poor and young girls to “start becoming more empowered and maybe this bill will help.”

“I want young girls to recognize that if they have that need for those necessities, they should not be shy about asking for them, and also start getting involved and engaged,” she told NM Political Report. The bill unanimously passed the House Health and Human Services Committee but the House Taxation and Revenue Committee tabled the bill.  The House Taxation and Revenue Committee later amended a tax changes bill, HB 163, sponsored by Christine Chandler, D-Albuquerque, to include tax deductions for gross receipts tax for feminine hygiene products.

No decision by House committee, yet, on cannabis legalization

The push for cannabis legalization by some New Mexico lawmakers continues to be a steady, yet slow, effort. 

The House Health and Human Services Committee on Saturday heard comments from members of the public as well as questions and concerns from three Republican representatives regarding cannabis legalization bills HB 12 and HB 17. But the committee did not vote on either bill and will return on Monday to consider additional amendments and decide whether one, both or neither bill will go on to the next committee. 

Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe is the lead sponsor of HB 17. 

Lujan said that, while this is her first year as a legislator, she has watched the push for legalization closely. 

“One of the things that we keep getting told is, ‘Wait and see, wait and see. Let’s look at the states that have the programs in place and learn from their mistakes before we move forward with our own legislation for New Mexico,” Lujan told the committee. “I’ve watched and as this push to legalize has repeatedly stalled out, it’s been very frustrating. It’s been frustrating for many of us as we see, especially our neighboring states around us move forward with it.”

Lujan framed her legalization bill as a distilled version of previous attempts at legalization, mainly focused on protecting the state’s current medical cannabis program.