Nonprofit alleges legal violations as medical debt lawsuits continue unabated during pandemic

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a 2021 bill into law carving out new consumer protections for people with medical debt. The law required hospitals and debt collection agencies to verify patients’ income level before taking them to court or sending a hefty bill. But some hospitals have routinely failed to do that since the Patients’ Debt Collection Protection Act took effect in July 2021, according to Nicolas Cordova, an attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. Among other protections, the new law requires hospitals to verify that a patient’s income status doesn’t fall below 200 percent of the federal poverty line before taking them to court or sending their unpaid bill to a collection agency like CBF Services or Kryptonite Credit Servers, two of the most prolific debt collection firms working in New Mexico. “I can tell you anecdotally, we know there are hospitals that are not doing that,” Cordova said.

A new healthcare poll finds that a majority of New Mexicans have put off medical visits due to cost

A new poll found that one in two New Mexicans didn’t seek medical care in the past two years due to the cost. Nearly a quarter of New Mexicans said they’d experienced discomfort or pain because they could not afford the cost. Of the respondents, 36 percent said they skipped dental care due to cost. Another 29 percent delayed visiting a doctor or procedure and 26 percent avoided visiting a doctor or procedure altogether because of the expense. Alex Williams, healthcare policy advocate for New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told NM Political Report that currently, there are 200,000 individuals in New Mexico who lack access to healthcare.

Some don’t know what they’ll do when federal unemployment assistance ends Sept. 4

With federal unemployment assistance ending in New Mexico on Sept. 4, Albuquerque resident Rhiannon Chavez-Ross worries she could lose her house. A single mom with two children, Chavez-Ross lost her party and event business when the COVID-19 pandemic began. She said she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of less than $1,000 for her business last year and she has been on unemployment benefits since the early days of the virus’ spread. But, she said she has had to supplement her unemployment relief with money from her savings.

New Mexico renters protected under state supreme court eviction stay

Renters in New Mexico who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are still protected under the New Mexico Supreme Court’s stay on evictions, said a court official. Barry Massey, public information officer for the Administrative Office of the Courts, told NM Political Report that the state supreme court’s stay has no set time limit to it and will continue until the justices decide to end it. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new order Tuesday that would stay evictions for most renters impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic until Oct. 3. Maria Griego, economic equity director for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said through email that the CDC eviction moratorium would cover areas heavily impacted by the virus, which amounts to about 90 percent of the U.S. population.

A bill to end hospital discrimination against immigrants heads to House floor

A bill that would end hospital discrimination based on immigration status advanced Wednesday when it passed unanimously in the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee. HB 112 would enable all counties and hospitals in the state that offer indigent care to extend that program to all migrants, regardless of their legal immigration status. Bill sponsor Rep. Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, said during the committee hearing that most New Mexico counties and hospitals are already providing indigent care to people regardless of immigration status. But, because of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress, there are a few counties and hospitals that take a “narrow view” of that law and “discriminate against people who are noncitizens,” Martinez said. According to the Fiscal Impact Report, the PRWORA allows indigent funds to be used only for certain indigent people, but generally not to many classes of immigrants.

Bill would let schools extend K-5 school days

The way César Hernández sees it, House Bill 184 would let every school have a “genius hour.” That’s what the principal of Albuquerque’s Los Padillas Elementary School calls the extra hour of learning his school offers every day. That hour allows students to apply core curriculum lessons to creative projects like robotics, engineering, poetry and clowning. The students give a presentation on what they’ve learned for parents, grandparents and other students, drawing loved ones into the learning process. They also strengthen their understanding of key concepts as they complete their projects.

New Mexico broadband bill passes first committee

Despite investments of hundreds of millions of dollars, access to broadband services has remained out of reach for many New Mexicans in rural and impoverished areas. And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated that problem, especially when it comes to public school students trying to learn remotely. 

That’s the message members of the House Transportation, Public Works and Capital Improvements Committee heard from a number of lawmakers, experts and members of the public during a Tuesday hearing on the issue. “We don’t need to talk about the need, we need to talk about the how — how are we going to do this?” said Rep. Natalie Figueroa, D-Albuquerque. 

Figueroa is one of five House legislators, all Democrats, pushing for passage of House Bill 10, an initiative that would create a broadband division within the New Mexico Department of Information Technology. The committee voted 8-1 to approve the measure, sending it on to the House Appropriations Committee. 

That proposed department would serve as a center of operations to provide planning and technical assistance to local governments, state agencies and public education institutions to develop and initiate broadband programs. Assistance will include guidance in applying for funding for such initiatives. 

The goal, Figueroa said, is to create a central state agency focused on expanding affordable broadband access to all parts of the state.

Bill to establish Health Care Affordability Fund expected during legislative session

A bill designed to lower insurance premiums for state residents on the New Mexico health care exchange is expected to be filed for the 2021 Legislature. The bill is a priority for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and is still being drafted, so not all the details have been worked out. But Nicolas Cordova, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, said one of the benefits of the Health Care Affordability Fund is that it would encourage more individuals to enroll and that, in turn, could lead to insurance premiums dropping for residents who are on the exchange. The bill, if it becomes law, would apply a surtax on insurance companies of 2.75 percent. That would generate $110 million in net revenue for the state, Cordova said.

Yazzie-Martinez plaintiffs want court to order state to address remote learning issues

The plaintiffs in a lawsuit over educational resources in New Mexico filed a request with the First Judicial District Court on Wednesday to order the state to provide computers and high-speed internet access to thousands of at risk students who lack tools for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. An estimated 23 percent of the New Mexico population lacks broadband internet service, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP). The nonprofit, which is providing legal counsel to the plaintiffs of the Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit, estimated that 80 percent of Native Americans living on tribal lands do not have internet services at all. Florena Valencia, of the San Felipe Pueblo, and her three daughters are one Native American family who lack internet at home. Valencia sat with her three daughters in her hot car in the warmer months while her children tried to learn remotely, she said.

New SCOTUS conservative bloc could overturn ACA, with big impacts on NM

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act during the 2020-2021 judicial term, the result for New Mexicans could be catastrophic, according to various officials and experts. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas on November 10. If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Monday, as is expected, this will be among the first cases she will hear as a Supreme Court justice. If she is confirmed, she will create a new 6-3 conservative bloc on the court bench which could lead to a ruling that the entire ACA is unconstitutional. If this happens, 20 million Americans could lose health insurance coverage, according to a report by the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.