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.

Grant funding for rural healthcare facilities to expand or create new services passes Senate

The state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would, if enacted, make grants available to rural healthcare facilities to expand or create new services by a vote of 28-to-8. SB 7, Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, sponsored by state Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos, aims to establish a grant program for rural healthcare services, operated by the New Mexico Department of Human Services. Healthcare facilities in 28 of the state’s 33 counties would be eligible. The grants would be for one and no more than five years of operation. The grant money would cover operating losses and the grantee would be required to provide verifiable claims and cost data, Stefanics said.

A bill to help expand rural healthcare services heads to Senate floor

A bill that provides grant funding to expand healthcare services in rural communities passed the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on an 8-to-1 vote. SB 7, Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, is sponsored by state Sen. Elizabeth “Liz” Stefanics, D-Los Cerrillos. Stefanics said bill is to enable rural healthcare providers the ability to expand new services as a way to try to improve health care deserts in rural communities. The New Mexico Department of Human Services would administer the program and provide grants to healthcare facilities that want to expand care but cannot due to the costs associated with doing so. HSD Acting Secretary Kari Armijo said that while HSD would provide grants based on anticipated projected losses, the department would do a “back end reconciliation” to ensure that the department did not provide too large a grant.

MLG backs legislation to rename HSD

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced her support for a bill to rename the Human Services Department as the Health Care Authority Department. The bill, SB 16, also changes HSD’s powers and duties as well as allows for transitions. The bill’s goal is to establish “a single, unified department responsible for health care purchasing, regulation and policy,” a gubernatorial news release states. SB 16 is sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, and Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson, D-Albuquerque. “My priority continues to be to deliver high quality health care for New Mexicans at an affordable price,”Lujan Grisham said in the news release.

Governor-backed fund would address shortage of health care providers in rural areas

By Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Immediately after Dr. Valory Wangler opened a nonprofit health center serving Gallup and McKinley County last year, patients started to pour through her doors. “We certainly could tell that we had identified a critical need,” said Wangler, founder and executive director of Gallup Community Health. Since then, the health center has expanded from mostly only Wangler seeing patients to 11 providers working in the burgeoning facility in some capacity or another. “We believe in paying our staff fairly and making sure that they’re able to meet their basic needs, and that has certainly put us at an operating loss,” she said. Under a bill lawmakers started to pore over Wednesday, health care providers such as Wangler could see some financial relief.

Focus turns to rural water projects

In the eyes of some lawmakers, rural New Mexico often is neglected by state government and the big-city politicians who rule the Roundhouse. A push to address the state’s myriad water infrastructure needs — part of a larger effort to prepare for the effects of a warming climate — could transform the current method of operation, as the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will try to focus on helping rural New Mexico. Mike Hamman, the governor’s new water adviser, said Thursday that federal infrastructure funding prioritizes “underserved and neglected” communities. “We’re going to try to flip the model because, right now, communities that have capacity are outcompeting the communities that suffer with their capacities,” Hamman told members of the Senate Conservation Committee. “They don’t have good support, so that’s going to be something that will be very important for us … to try to coordinate that in a way that flips the model and puts some energy into helping our rural communities succeed and get the infrastructure they need to have good quality drinking water and wastewater systems,” he said.

Free college tuition proposal could get a second chance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance. A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status. The plan would combine all of the state’s existing college scholarships into one aid pool and steeply increase the available funding. “The real goal is to ensure college affordability, to establish an all-encompassing free college package combining all the scholarships for New Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the possible legislation, told lawmakers on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting Monday. For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some tuition costs for in-state college and university students, including both new high school graduates and adults.

Paid sick leave passes Senate after lengthy, acrimonious debate including a filibuster

The state Senate passed the Healthy Workplaces bill 25 to 16 after a lengthy debate that stretched into the early hours of Friday during which Democrats sparred against each other on the chamber floor over the treatment of the bill’s sponsor, while Republicans railed against the bill and one even held a lengthy filibuster. HB 20 would mandate that all private sector employers provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Private sector employees could accrue up to 64 hours a year of paid sick leave. The bill would not go into effect until July 1, 2022. Advocates had pushed for mandated paid sick leave for years, including at the local level in Albuquerque.

Aid-in-dying bill poised to become law in New Mexico

The New Mexico Senate passed a controversial bill Monday that would allow terminally ill patients who are of sound mind to take their own lives with the aid of a physician. The bill will soon head to the desk of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign the measure into law once the state House of Representatives, which already has approved the bill, concurs with a number of amendments. “The governor has been a lifelong advocate for seniors and their independence, as well as for the importance of dignity and respect in making choices about one’s own health and treatment,” Nora Meyers Sackett, Lujan Grisham’s press secretary, wrote in an email. Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, described the measure as “compassion for the suffering” and said nine other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation. “A 2020 Gallup poll indicates 74 percent of Americans support an end-of-life option,” Stefanics said at the end of a 2½-hour debate.