The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday by a 228 to 195 vote that would codify the right to contraception into law, but its future in the U.S. Senate is uncertain. All Democrats in the House voted in support of the bill. Most Republicans opposed it, but eight voted in favor. HR 8373, would codify into law the right to contraception and the right of healthcare providers to provide it and information about it. When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a concurring dissenting opinion stating that all rights based on the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy, including the right to contraception, should be revisited by the court.
With the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Healthcare a few weeks away, White House officials held a conference call with New Mexico legislators and others about the impending reproductive healthcare crisis. House Majority Leader Javier Martinez of Albuquerque, state Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena of Mesilla and state Sen. Shannon Pinto of Tohatchi, all Democrats, participated in the call with White House Gender Policy Council Director Jennifer Klein and White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Julie Chavez Rodriguez earlier this week. After the Texas six-week gestational ban went into effect last September, some clinics in New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada experienced a 500 percent increase in patients, according to the White House statement. Martinez told NM Political Report that specific policy issues did not come up during the call but said that “we talked about making sure we will provide access to reproductive health services.”
“New Mexico stands with women and New Mexico respects reproductive justice and it will be a beacon of hope for women across the country. It is our responsibility as state legislators to make sure it happens,” he said.
Disability Rights New Mexico and three families filed a suit against the state and three managed care organizations for allegedly not providing necessary care to medically fragile children. The managed care organizations are New Mexico Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Presbyterian Health Plan and Western Sky Community Care.
Medicaid is required to provide at-home care to severely disabled children whose ability to live at home is dependent upon trained nursing, the complaint states. Jesse Clifton, a lawyer with Disability Rights New Mexico, said the state has about 400 medically-fragile children, some of whom are not receiving any at-home nursing despite qualifying for it. He said he anticipates more families will join the lawsuit. The state is providing federal funds for that coverage, Clifton and Holly Mell, also a lawyer for Disability Rights New Mexico, told NM Political Report.
The New Mexico Human Services Department will expand postpartum Medicaid availability to 12 months of coverage starting Friday. The agency began efforts this past winter to expand postpartum Medicaid coverage to 12 months with a target date of April 1. The state is able to expand the coverage from two months to 12 months due to recent changes in federal law that allows the state to change how it asks for Medicaid dollars. The expansion will continue for five years. After that, the federal government will decide to continue to allow the expansion.
New Mexico could expand Medicaid coverage for postpartum care from two months to a full year starting this spring. The New Mexico Human Services Department is working to have the new rules in place by April 1, Nicole Comeaux, Human Services Department Medicaid director, told NM Political Report. The federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) made changes in how the state can ask for Medicaid dollars to encourage states to expand Medicaid for pregnant women. Comeaux said this change enabled HSD to start the process of expanding Medicaid coverage to all expecting individuals, including those who miscarry. She said it could impact up to 17,000 individuals in the state.
A University of New Mexico Cancer Center oncologist said she and other providers are seeing an increase in the amount of people diagnosed with breast cancer in the state. Dr. Ursa Brown-Glaberman, medical oncologist at the UNM Cancer Comprehensive Center, said the increase in cancer diagnosis began in fall of 2020. She said providers “saw what we expected; a whole lot of cancer out there not being detected.”
“As clinicians, we saw a huge wave of diagnosis. We were incredibly busy [in the] fall [of 2020] and spring [of 2021] and there were more patients than we normally see with new breast cancers. We saw women who skipped mammograms for a year.
Breast cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer for women in New Mexico and cancer experts urge women to make appointments if they previously delayed mammograms due to the COVID-19 pandemic. State Human Services Department Secretary Dr. David Scrase said during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press conference on Thursday there was a “serious drop off in preventive services” in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And not all women who should be getting regular mammogram screenings this year have returned to see a health provider. “Stop delaying,” Scrase said. “If you are at high risk, schedule your screening today.”
Women are considered high risk if they have a family history of breast cancer or are over the age of 50.
For the third day in a row, New Mexico saw more than 200 new cases of COVID-19, with double digit new cases also for the third day in a row coming from four counties: Bernalillo, McKinley, San Juan and Doña Ana. The New Mexico Department of Health announced 209 additional cases and two additional deaths related to COVID-19. The state tested 2,321 individuals Saturday. The total number of deaths reached 491 while the total number of test positive cases reached 11,619. These numbers come on a day in which national news media report that cases across the U.S. are on the rise and more than 2.5 million Americans have been infected by the disease.
New Mexico Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase has said that the state would like to test around 5,000 a day.
New Mexico’s Children Youth and Families Department along with the state’s Human Services Department settled in federal court last week with a group of plaintiffs that include children in foster care. The suit alleged that the state’s foster program was severely lacking in services and resources.
Both CYFD Secretary Brian Blalock and the plaintiff’s legal team are touting the settlement agreement as the first of its kind as it incorporates changes to the system through a collaborative effort.
Kathryn Eidmann, with national pro bono law firm Public Counsel, is part of the plaintiff’s legal team. Eidmann called the collaborative settlement agreement “groundbreaking and the first of its kind in the nation.”
“[The agreement] centers the impact that trauma has on young people in the foster system and designs a system that is trauma responsive at every stage and every step of the process,” Eidmann said. “That truly does make New Mexico a national leader and a national model that other reformers in this area can look to as they think about reforming their own system to better meet the needs of children in care.”
The settlement stipulates a time table and benchmarks for changes to the state’s foster care program. For example, by the end of this year, the state will ensure no children are housed in hotels or state offices.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Gonzales laid out the stakes in a long-simmering lawsuitover the Human Services Department’s record of denying food stamp and Medicaid benefits to eligible New Mexicans during a status hearing Thursday at the federal courthouse in Las Cruces.
He’d visited the HSD office on Utah Street in Las Cruces where he had looked over cases with a front-line worker there. One client was a single mom with two kids under 6. She’d lost SNAP benefits because she had not submitted documents that apparently were already in the system. Then her family lost Medicaid benefits, even though they weren’t up for renewal, because of the decision on food stamps — something that violates federal rules. Another mom with a teen daughter got benefits approved, but needed to wait more than two weeks for an EBT card.
This story originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission.