Legislative Wrap Up 2019

Dear friends,

This legislative session was a turning point for New Mexico. The efforts of the Center on Law and Poverty and our partners paved the way for historic changes for our state and started long overdue dialogue about the bold changes that must be made for children and families. This could not have happened without you! THANK YOU for the countless phone calls, emails to your legislators, testimony in committee hearings, and sharing of information with your networks and through social media.

We have much to celebrate together and are especially proud to share several major victories.

Our advocacy efforts and expert testimony were instrumental in achieving:

Historic wins for workers in New Mexico
Domestic and home care workers are now protected by basic labor laws. Along with our partners, we successfully eliminated outdated, discriminatory practices in our state so people doing some of the toughest jobs, like caring for others’ loved ones and cleaning houses, are protected by New Mexico’s minimum wage standards and other wage protections.

After a decade of stagnant wages, hard working New Mexicans will finally get a raise. Hundreds of workers from across New Mexico mobilized in support of a wage increase this session. It was a long and challenging fight, but starting in January 2020, the state minimum wage will be raised to $9 an hour and increase annually until reaching $12 an hour in 2023. This will directly impact 150,901 workers in our state—nearly 20 percent of the workforce.

Loopholes closed in small loans laws
Everyone should be able to understand the terms of their loans, especially when these loans are taken out from storefront lenders. Our advocacy with our partners led to significantly more accountability and transparency by mandating that lenders report relevant data to the state and by aligning our small loan laws so all New Mexico families receive fairer loans.

Public education a top priority
After winning the Yazzie/Martinez court ruling on behalf of families and school districts, we joined with education, tribal and community leaders, and students to form the Transform Education NM coalition and used this historic opportunity to bring education to the forefront this legislative session. New Mexico’s education system must be rooted in a multicultural framework for our diverse student body, and our coalition won much needed funding for culturally and linguistically responsive instruction in rural areas. Overall, New Mexico saw an increase in education funding, and teachers got long overdue raises. However, we still have a long way to go, and we will not stop until every child has the education they need to succeed and are entitled to by the New Mexico Constitution. 

Progress toward innovative and affordable health coverage
Dozens of families, healthcare professionals, and advocates joined the NM Together for Healthcare campaign to work tirelessly for a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who struggle to afford the outrageous costs of private insurance but don’t qualify for Medicaid. The Human Services Department will now receive funding to further study and begin the administrative development of a public option plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

The path ahead
We’re focused on New Mexico’s future, and together with you, we will continue to push for complete transformation of our education system, expansion of early childhood education—including pre-K, childcare assistance and home visiting services—better pay and working conditions for workers, financial and food security, and access to healthcare for all of our families.

Sincerely,

Sireesha Manne                                                  
Executive Director

Overturning Affordable Care Act would leave nearly 300,000 New Mexicans without healthcare coverage

In a change of course, Trump administration says entire ACA should be struck down as unconstitutional

ALBUQUERQUE—This week the Trump administration announced that it agrees with a federal judge in Texas that the entire Affordable Care Act should be invalidated. Overturning the ACA would impact tens of millions of people who rely on the nine-year-old law for health insurance; in New Mexico, hundreds of thousands of residents would have their healthcare coverage stripped away.

In a significant change of course, on Monday night, President Trump’s Justice Department notified the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where an appeal is pending in the case, Texas v. United States, that it would file a legal brief arguing that the entire act should be struck down as unconstitutional. A coalition of states is appealing the ruling and asking the appellate court to uphold the ACA.

“It’s shocking that President Trump and the Department of Justice intend to rip away access to healthcare for millions of people across the U.S. and hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans,” said William Townley, attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Overturning the Affordable Care Act would damage the entire healthcare system, especially for low-income families. Healthcare coverage will become unaffordable for many New Mexicans, pricing them out of the healthcare system and blocking access to medical care.”

The Affordable Care Act provides coverage for hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans. An immediate termination of coverage for so many people has far-reaching and possibly irrevocable consequences in New Mexico.

  • Nearly 300,000 New Mexicans would lose their healthcare coverage through Medicaid expansion or coverage they’ve purchased on the Health Insurance Exchange;
  • Young adults would no longer be able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26;
  • Small business would lose tax credits that make it affordable to provide healthcare for their employees;
  • Insurance companies would be allowed to deny coverage for those who are suffering from pre-existing conditions; and
  • New Mexico’s economy would be threatened—Medicaid expansion has provided financial security for over 250,000 adults and has brought in federal funding that directly supports healthcare jobs and the healthcare sector overall.

“Healthcare coverage is a lifeline for millions of people across the country,” said Townley. “We should be finding ways to improve access to quality and affordable care rather than making devastating cuts to healthcare.”

Medicaid buy-in will help everyone in New Mexico

Anhdao Bui / Co-Interim Director, New Mexico Asian Family Center
This appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on March 25, 2019.

There are many stories in New Mexico’s Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community about lives cut short by lack of access to health care. As the co-interim director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center (NMAFC), I hear these stories almost daily. Now that funding to develop a Medicaid buy-in plan has passed the Legislature, I urge Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to seize this opportunity to craft a plan that will extend coverage to all New Mexicans. AAPIs and all families need this affordable health care coverage option.

The Medicaid buy-in is an innovative idea that would allow eligible New Mexico residents to pay a reasonable monthly premium for the trusted health care coverage that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years. That includes preventive care, childbirth and prenatal care, and even specialty care.

For one family that I worked with, New Mexico’s Medicaid buy-in plan is coming too late. But for so many more in our community, it will be a welcomed relief that will finally make life-saving health care affordable and accessible.

Last year, a 55-year-old grandfather came to NMAFC asking for help accessing health care. He had moved from Vietnam to Albuquerque a few years before with his wife. Their daughter had married an American man and started a family of her own here. Working and raising kids, particularly for low-income, immigrant families, can be overwhelming. A multi-generational household can help bridge gaps in childcare and income, and the daughter and son-in-law were grateful to have her parents living with them.

Shortly after arriving in Albuquerque, though, the grandfather began experiencing severe headaches. Without financial resources, he was unable to access care in the United States. It wasn’t until he made a trip back to Vietnam that he went to a doctor. The news was devastating: He had brain cancer.

Back in New Mexico, he was ineligible for Medicaid because he had not been in the state for five years. Desperate to get treatment, he and his wife moved again. This time to California where he could access Medicaid. He began chemotherapy, but the treatment made him weak and, without being able to work, he couldn’t afford the cost of rent, food and basic necessities. He and his wife had to move back in with their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren in Albuquerque. He was with his family, but he was without care.

When I started working with him through the center, he had gone many months without any treatment. He was weak, and his family was scared. I was able to get an exception for him to receive coverage through UNM Care. He briefly resumed treatment, but, I am sad to say, died a few months ago.

Timely access to affordable health care could have saved – or at the very least prolonged – this man’s life, giving him more time with his family. It is not too much to ask that our elders be able to see a doctor, and to see their grandchildren grow up.

Talk to any of the more than 40,000 AAPIs living in New Mexico and you will hear a similar story. A friend who lost a limb because she couldn’t afford medical attention until it was too late. A cousin who died from pneumonia as a result of the flu. A grandchild born prematurely due to inadequate access to prenatal care. It’s time to change the way families access health care.

With a Medicaid buy-in plan in place, New Mexicans, including those like the grandfather I worked with, will be able to get covered and get care – without fear of bankrupting themselves or their families.

We cannot change that family’s story. It’s too late. But, by adopting a Medicaid buy-in plan in New Mexico, we can provide a better quality of life for the thousands of other New Mexicans – in the Asian Pacific Islander community and around the state – who lack health care coverage.

New Mexico Families Celebrate Legislature’s Funding Medicaid Buy-in

Money Appropriated to Study, Develop Innovative Health Coverage Plan

SANTA FE—New Mexico Together for Healthcare on Saturday celebrated a big win for New Mexico families after the Legislature adjourned having appropriated funding to the Human Services Department to further study and begin the administrative development of a Medicaid Buy-in plan, including pursuing federal funding to help pay for it.

“This is a tremendous step forward,” said Strong Families New Mexico Field Director Adriann Barboa. “Because of the leadership of the New Mexico Legislature, our state is leading the nation in moving forward toward creating a Medicaid Buy-in plan so that all families can access quality, affordable healthcare coverage.”

Between the two “Junior” spending bills, SB 536 and HB 548, the Legislature allocated $142,000 for Fiscal Year 2020 for the “study and administrative development of a Medicaid Buy-in plan.”

Initial study of a potential Medicaid Buy-in plan in New Mexico, which was called for by memorials passed in the 2018 legislative session, showed that a buy-in is a cost-effective way to insure the thousands of New Mexicans who are currently without coverage. The additional study called for by the Legislature this year will build on previous research and specifically explore ways to set up the plan to cover the most people possible. The “administrative development” component allows HSD to prepare to implement Medicaid Buy-in, including seeking federal waivers to receive federal financing for the plan.

“No New Mexican should go without healthcare because they cannot afford it,” said Abuko D. Estrada, Supervising Attorney for Healthcare with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Without health insurance coverage, though, 190,000 New Mexicans currently have to choose between putting food on the table and seeing a doctor. With the Legislature’s support for Medicaid Buy-in, families will no longer have to make those impossible choices.”

Maria Burciaga, a promotora from Sunland Park, applauded the Legislature for appropriating the funding.

“With many other families, my brother-in-law and I spent as much time as we could over the past two months in Santa Fe talking with legislators, testifying in committees and educating people about Medicaid Buy-in,” Burciaga said. “This funding shows that the Legislature listened to the people. New Mexicans need access to affordable healthcare.”

In addition to the families who spoke out at the Legislature, recent statewide polling found strong support, regardless of political affiliation, for Medicaid Buy-in in New Mexico.

The Medicaid Buy-in is a healthcare coverage plan that would be administered by the state and would allow eligible New Mexico residents to pay affordable monthly premiums to receive the same trusted health coverage that Medicaid has provided for more than 50 years.

“For too long too many New Mexicans have had to choose between paying their bills and getting the healthcare they need,” Colin Baillio, Director of Policy and Communication with Health Action NM said. “New Mexicans—and the members of Legislature–know that it’s time for a change. With this investment in developing a Medicaid Buy-in plan, we will create the change families need and deserve.”

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NM Together for Healthcare is a statewide, multiracial coalition of families and community organizations working together to strengthen healthcare access in New Mexico, supported by Strong Families New MexicoNew Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Health Action New Mexico and United States of Care. The campaign’s website is http://nmtogether4health.org/ Follow the campaign on Facebook @NMTogether4Healthcare and Twitter @NMT4HC.

Memorial to expand home visiting services passed by Senate Public Affairs Committee

SANTA FE— A memorial establishing an advisory council to develop a plan for the statewide expansion of a Medicaid-financed home visiting system in New Mexico, will head to the Senate floor following a “do-pass” vote today in the Senate Public Affairs Committee. Home visiting programs provide support and critical assistance for families that range from health care to emotional and social supports at a crucial time in a child’s brain development. Senate Memorial 117, Medicaid Home Visiting Program Council, is sponsored by Senator Linda M. Lopez.

“Every child deserves the best start from birth. Nurturing our state’s youngest children is key to ensuring they grow up healthy and prepared to succeed in life,” said William Townley, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We’re optimistic that the memorial will pass the Senate.”

If passed by the New Mexico Senate, SM 117 would convene a council of home visiting providers and heads of the Human Services Department, Children, Youth and Families Department, Department of Health, and the Children’s Cabinet to make recommendations for expanding home visiting across the state through Medicaid financing.

Research shows that home visiting helps establish a strong foundation for families so children can grow up healthier and parents can develop stronger parenting skills. Home visiting programs that currently exist in New Mexico provide a team of professionals to help families learn about healthcare, child development, and parenting skills. Other services can include screening mothers for postpartum depression, supporting breastfeeding, and connecting families to community activities.

Unfortunately, most New Mexican families do not have access to home visiting services. Most services are offered by private non-profits that cannot scale up to meet the large unmet need in the state.

“Offering education early in a child’s life is essential in helping families succeed,” said Townley. “It would be good for everyone in New Mexico if more families could access home visiting.”

Medicaid buy-in works for working families

By Richard Ranger
This appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on March 8, 2019

When my wife and I first got married, we didn’t have health insurance. We didn’t think we needed it. We were young and healthy. Plus, even though we both worked multiple jobs, none of our employers provided health coverage, so there wasn’t an obvious way to even get insurance.

All of that changed once we found out that we were expecting a baby.

We quickly realized that we could not afford the doctor bills. The cost of prenatal visits, prenatal vitamins and specialty care added up fast. We talked it over and decided to apply for Medicaid. Unfortunately for us — like so many other New Mexicans — we made slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid, and we certainly couldn’t afford overwhelming costs of private insurance. The premiums, deductibles and prescription drug costs were just too much for our family to bear.

We had to make difficult decisions to get health coverage. We didn’t have any other options. It was clear that Medicaid was the coverage that made sense for our family because it covered all of the essential services we needed without saddling us with medical debt. Fortunately, a change in our financial situation allowed us to reapply and finally qualify for Medicaid.

Medicaid was a huge help. Doctors’ appointments were easy to make and we finally had access to quality, affordable health care. As a result, we are the proud parents of Isaak, our 6-year-old son who brings us joy every day. We are grateful that he is healthy and grateful that Medicaid helped make that happen.

As much as my family would like to pursue better economic opportunities, we worry that the high cost of health care will risk our family’s health and financial well-being. Unfortunately, in order to keep the health insurance we need, we’ve had to put off pursuing careers in our community. We aren’t being true to ourselves and working the way that we always talked about. And the only thing that’s holding us back is our need for health coverage. That’s not the way things should be.

Fortunately, there is an option to help families like ours: Medicaid buy-in. It’s a simple idea that would allow families who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid or Medicare and who can’t get subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act to pay reasonable monthly premiums for the quality, trusted coverage provided by Medicaid. My wife and I know how well Medicaid takes care of families. We have a strong son as proof. We would welcome the opportunity to work full time again to support our family and be able to pay for health care coverage we trust.

That’s why my whole family — even Isaak — has been speaking out at the New Mexico Legislature in support of the Medicaid Buy-in Act, House Bill 416. We know what Medicaid buy-in would mean to real New Mexico families who want to work and need access to health care. It would mean the chance to work hard, the chance to get ahead and the ability stay healthy. And that means a lot.

My wife and I have learned so much about the legislative process by volunteering with Strong Families New Mexico and speaking out on behalf of our family and those like us in our community. We’ve attended hearings, testified in committees and stayed late into the evening for important votes. I’m glad to say that the bill is moving forward in both the House and Senate. But I am also worried. We need representatives and senators to continue to support Medicaid buy-in and to pass it out of its final committees. With successful floor votes in the House and the Senate, we could send this bill to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has said she would sign it.

We want to be able to tell our son that the Legislature did the right thing and created Medicaid buy-in. New Mexico working families need a health care solution that works for them — the Medicaid buy-in.

Richard Ranger lives in Gallup.

Medicaid Buy-in: An opportunity to improve women’s health in New Mexico

By Sydney Tellez
This appeared in the NM Political Report on March 1, 2019.

We have the opportunity in New Mexico to become a national champion for women’s healthcare by creating a Medicaid Buy-In.

This straightforward proposal, championed in the Legislature by Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino and Rep. Debbie Armstrong, will allow some New Mexico families to pay for the trusted care that Medicaid already provides.

I know personally how Medicaid helps women and families right now. My sister-in-law was rear-ended while seven months pregnant, bringing my beautiful nephew into the world prematurely. Fortunately, they were already covered by Medicaid and didn’t have to be overly worried about the cost of care while they were frightened for their newborn son’s well being. As a result, little Bodhi is healthy–and his parents weren’t bankrupted by medical bills.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for the 190,000 New Mexicans still living without health coverage. The result? Women and families of color in underserved communities have the highest rate of maternal death and infant mortality. A Buy-in plan will substantially impact these families’ ability to access prenatal and postpartum care–especially during emergencies like the one my sister-in-law faced.

When Medicaid was enacted more than half a century ago, no one imagined that the program would become the backbone of coverage for millions of women. Today, Medicaid provides health and long-term coverage to more than 1 in 10 women in New Mexico. In fact, Medicaid covers 72 percent of all births in New Mexico, helping to deliver healthy babies and to support new moms. Medicaid is also instrumental in providing coverage essential for healthy pregnancies. It covers prenatal visits and vitamins, ultrasounds and amniocentesis, childbirth by vaginal or cesarean delivery, and 60 days of postpartum care. That’s healthcare access that women and their families can count on.

Many New Mexico women and families, however, do not qualify for Medicaid. But they still struggle to make ends meet, choosing between keeping food on the table or paying for health insurance. Additionally, the coverage provided by the Affordable Care Act can be too costly to these families because they make too much money to access the ACA premium subsidies and they make too little to be able to afford the cost of falling ill.  Still, access to healthcare is crucial for New Mexico families, especially during pregnancy and for family planning.

Under a Medicaid Buy-in plan, eligible women would have access to health services, including prenatal and postpartum care. The care that Medicaid, through a Buy-in, can provide during and after pregnancy enhances the likelihood of healthier pregnancies and better birth outcomes.

Additionally, a Medicaid Buy-in plan could benefit aging New Mexico women. For elderly women who meet income eligibility requirements, Medicaid covers high-cost services provided in a skilled nursing facility, as well as home- and community-based healthcare for women who are entitled to nursing facility services. Aging New Mexicans who do not qualify for Medicaid today, under a Buy-in system, could rely on Medicaid for healthcare related to a physical or mental disability or chronic condition, treatment for breast or cervical cancer, and even long-term care services.

New Mexico is already a frontrunner for women’s reproductive health because of our thoughtful laws to respect the personal decisions parents and families make regarding abortion. A natural next step is for New Mexico to create a Medicaid Buy-in, which would propel New Mexico to the top of the list for women’s access to healthcare overall.

New Mexico families, women and communities embody resilience in the face of adversity. With reproductive healthcare access under attack federally, New Mexicans are leading the way to protect women, families and future generations. We must take the same proactive approach to protecting women’s access to quality healthcare by creating a Medicaid Buy-in. That is why the Southwest Women’s Law Center supports a Medicaid Buy-in and urges legislators to vote for this bill that supports New Mexico women and their families.

Sydney Tellez is the Policy Advocate for the Southwest Women’s Law Center.

ACTION ALERT: Fund Medicaid Buy-in plan

Please join us in contacting key members of the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) and ask them to amend House Bill 2 to include $4 million of non-recurring funds to setup a Medicaid Buy-in plan.

The Human Services Department needs the $4 million to ensure it can setup the Medicaid Buy-in plan by  January 1, 2021, which is required in the Medicaid Buy-in Act (HB 416/SB 405) moving through the Legislature.

The calls are quick and easy! A staff member for each senator will answer the phone. You’ll give them your name and ask them to tell the senator to amend House Bill 2 to include the $4 million in non-recurring funding for the Human Services Department to implement the Medicaid Buy-in.

Senator:Phone Number:
John Arthur Smith(505) 986-4365
George Muñoz(505) 986-4371
John Sapien(505) 986-4301

*Senators Campos, Candelaria, Cisneros and Rodriguez are supportive of the amendment. If you see them or want to give them a call, please thank them for their support.

Victory! Governor Moves to Stop Harmful Medicaid Cuts

VGreat news! Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced yesterday that her administration has asked the federal government to reverse harmful cuts in the Centennial Care 2.0 Medicaid waiver, regarding premiums, co-pays, and phasing out retroactive coverage.

With your support over the last two years, the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty fought these drastic cuts along with other provisions in the waiver that would have reduced healthcare services for parents and caretakers living in deep poverty and New Mexico children’s ability to grow into healthy adults.

Every step of the way, we stood together to attend public hearings, share stories, make phone calls, and write comments. Our efforts worked! 

In response to our advocacy, the Human Services Department and federal government scaled back the cuts piece by piece in the past year. Governor Lujan Grisham’s decision now strikes down the last of them. Her decision aligns with our stance that these cuts would have caused thousands of low-income New Mexicans to lose healthcare coverage, shifted more costs to healthcare providers, and raised overall costs for our healthcare system and state budget.

Thank you to Governor Lujan Grisham and an especially big thank you to all of you for your advocacy to protect access to healthcare for low-income New Mexicans!

Governor reverses Medicaid cuts in Centennial Care 2.0 waiver

Advocacy efforts conclude in a victory for families


SANTA FE—Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham reversed serious cuts to New Mexico’s Medicaid program yesterday following two years of advocacy efforts by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, community organizations, and healthcare providers. Under the Susana Martinez administration, New Mexico’s Human Services Department had proposed major cuts to healthcare services as part of the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver, many of which were approved by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in December 2018.  

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty led the efforts to fight the cuts that would have implemented premiums for some Medicaid patients, cut retroactive coverage, and instituted mandatory co-pays.

“We owe a huge thanks to Governor Lujan Grisham for reversing these harmful measures and to the advocates and families who fought tirelessly over the last two years for the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans,” said Abuko D. Estrada, supervising attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “Piece by piece, we’ve successfully fought the cuts in the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver that would have led to thousands of families losing healthcare coverage and shifted an unfair burden of costs to healthcare providers and the healthcare system.”  

The governor’s rejection of the waiver is the latest in a series of positive actions the new administration has taken to improve the health and wellbeing of New Mexicans. Since taking office, Lujan-Grisham has set forth plans to reach uninsured New Mexicans who are eligible for Medicaid but not enrolled and help them apply. The governor has also been publicly supportive of bills, currently working their way through the legislature, that would open up a Medicaid Buy-in option for New Mexicans who do not otherwise have access to affordable healthcare coverage.