Federal Court Hearing on HSD Compliance with Orders to Remove Barriers to Food and Medical Assistance on Wednesday, November 29

LAS CRUCES, NM— On Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces, Judge Kenneth Gonzales will hear an update on the New Mexico Human Services Department’s compliance with multiple court orders to timely and accurately provide food and medical assistance to eligible families.

Last year, Judge Gonzales held the HSD secretary in contempt for failing to remove barriers to assistance for eligible families and appointed a Special Master to monitor and make recommendations to the department. The Special Master recommended that HSD cease any program changes not required by federal law and that the department make changes in its management.

Despite the court orders and Special Master’s recommendations, HSD continues to improperly deny eligible New Mexicans food and medical assistance–in November of 2017, HSD had a backlog of over 17,000 unprocessed SNAP and Medicaid cases. The department has also failed to make any management changes and is proposing large-scale changes to the Medicaid program, including charging premiums and Medicaid co-pays, that are not required by federal law.

WHAT:
U.S District Court status conference on HSD compliance with court orders in Deborah Hatten Gonzales v. Brent Earnest, No. 88-385 KG/CG

WHEN:
Wednesday, November 29, 2017 at 1:30 p.m.

WHERE:
United States Courthouse
4th Floor, North Tower, Mimbres Courtroom
100 N. Church Street
Las Cruces, New Mexico 88001

WHO:
New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty attorneys
HSD Secretary and Attorneys

UNM Hospital Stops Requiring Low-Income, Uninsured Patients to Pay 50 Percent Down Payment for Surgery

ALBUQUERQUE, NM–After months of intense pressure from advocates, the UNM Hospital Board of Trustees reversed a policy, implemented in May 2017, requiring low-income, uninsured patients to pay a 50 percent down payment before surgeries. As a result of the policy, the hospital cancelled many patients’ surgeries because the patients couldn’t come up with thousands of dollars upfront to repair hernias, torn knee ligaments, broken bones, and in one case, a hysterectomy.

“We are relieved that the Hospital Board of Trustees has finally decided to treat all people with the same compassion and standard of care that insured people receive,” said Michelle Melendez, director of EleValle: South Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative. “Requiring people to pay 50 percent upfront was inhumane and not consistent with the mission of our public safety net hospital, which receives $96 million per year in property tax revenue to help cover indigent patients.”

The EleValle collaborative, which is comprised of Casa de Salud, Centro Savila, and ACCESS, teamed up with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Juntos Para la Salud, and with patient navigators from Pathways to a Healthy Bernalillo County to educate the UNM Hospital Board of Trustees about the policy’s impact on low-income, uninsured residents of Bernalillo County. The Bernalillo County Commission and the state Legislative Health and Human Services Committee weighed in on the side of advocates.

“The hospital’s policies created an insurmountable barrier for low-income patients to get surgeries, impacting their livelihoods and forcing them to suffer through worsening medical conditions,” said Sireesha Manne, healthcare attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We are grateful for the collaborative effort of community groups, patient navigators, and policymakers to hold the hospital accountable to its public mission.”

The board voted unanimously at the hospital’s board meeting on Friday to change the hospital’s Patient Payment and Financial Assistance policies. It also voted unanimously to establish a new Discount Program Policy for low-income patients living in New Mexico who meet poverty guidelines, are ineligible for Medicaid, and unable to purchase private insurance on the Health Insurance Exchange.

The new policies reinstate the hospital’s affordable down payment schedule that had been in place from 2005 until May 2017. Pathways navigators became aware of the hospital’s change in policy when clients who were seeking help with food, housing, transportation, and other basic needs disclosed that they were unable to work because of knee injuries and other debilitating medical conditions but could not afford a 50 percent down payment.

The reinstated schedule allows patients to pay $25, $75, or $300, depending on their level of poverty, upfront for surgeries that have been deemed medically necessary by their healthcare providers. The patients are then required to make monthly payments on the balance owed, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.

At the Friday meeting, Jerry McDowell, UNM Hospital board chairman, said, “There are some basic values that I think guide us: Do no harm to the patient. Consistent with our public service mission, serve all individuals with fairness, respect and dignity. Strive for best in class for quality, safety, and care. There are also legal guidelines overarching.”

Human Services Department to Hold Hearing on Medicaid Cuts on Monday, October 30

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—New Mexico’s Human Services Department (HSD) will hold a hearing on the serious cuts the Medicaid program faces in the Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal on Monday, October 30 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque. This will be the final public hearing on the issue.

The waiver proposal eliminates important coverage and health benefits and imposes new excessive patient fees in the form of co-pays and premiums on the working disabled, low-income adults living just above the poverty line, and children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). These fees will prevent people from seeking necessary healthcare and cause thousands of others to lose coverage.

WHAT:
HSD Hearing on the Centennial Care 2.0 Waiver Proposal

WHEN:
5:30-7:30 p.m., October 30, 2017

WHERE:          
National Hispanic Cultural Center’s Bank of America Theatre
1701 4th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM, 87102

Call in Number: 1-888-757-2790
Participant code: 991379#

WHO:

  • HSD staff
  • Abuko Estrada, attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and other groups against the waiver
  • Public Comment

Healthcare Repeal Effort Comes to an End, Saving Medicaid Funds for New Mexico

WASHINGTON DC— Republicans in Congress decided today to end their push on the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, because they do not have enough votes in their party to pass it through the Senate. Their decision comes after the Congressional Budget Office released a preliminary report yesterday that concluded millions of Americans would lose their healthcare coverage under the legislation, mostly due to significant cuts to Medicaid. The bill would have ended Medicaid Expansion for low-income adults and resulted in New Mexico losing billions of federal dollars over the next ten years.

“Medicaid has greatly improved the physical and economic health of New Mexico,” said Sireesha Manne, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “This bill suffered the same problems as older versions. It would have ripped away healthcare coverage from millions of people and permanently damaged Medicaid – a cornerstone of our healthcare system.”

The bill would have ended the Medicaid Expansion that provides healthcare coverage to more than 255,000 low-income adult New Mexicans, and resulted in New Mexico losing $9 billion federal dollars by the year 2027, according to the nonpartisan research group Avalere. The bill capped funding for the entire Medicaid program and eliminated tax credits that help people buy insurance. States would have been allowed to let insurance plans stop covering essential health benefits and to charge more to consumers with pre-existing conditions.

“New Mexico would have been forced to pay billions more in healthcare costs or slash Medicaid coverage for more than 230,000 people and cut services for the most vulnerable populations – including children, seniors, and people with disabilities,” said Manne.

The bill faced widespread opposition from state officials, consumer groups, and medical and industry groups. It also proved to be unpopular among Americans, with a CBS News Poll showing 52% of respondents disapproving the bill and only 20% in approval. A statewide poll conducted in New Mexico earlier this year by Research & Polling, Inc. found that nearly three-quarters of New Mexicans are opposed to reducing federal funding for Medicaid, and four out of five voters believe Medicaid is “important” or “very important” to residents.

Legislative Health and Human Services Committee to Hold Hearing on Medicaid Cuts Today

ALBUQUERQUE, NM—The New Mexico Legislative Health and Human Services (LHHS) Committee will hold a hearing today, starting at 12:30 p.m., on the serious cuts the Medicaid program faces in the Human Services Department’s (HSD) Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal. The hearing will take place at the Science and Technology Center Rotunda at UNM, 801 University Blvd. SE in Albuquerque, NM.

The proposal eliminates certain coverage and health benefits for low-income patients and imposes new patient fees in the form of co-pays and premiums to children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the working disabled, and low-income adults living just above the poverty line.

“Medicaid has worked well for New Mexico. The state should focus on ensuring our families can get the care they need to stay healthy, not cut coverage for the people who can least afford it,” said Abuko D. Estrada, an attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “At a time when our economy is struggling, these cuts will drive families into further financial hardships and throw away federal funding that helps sustain thousands of jobs.”

Currently for every state dollar New Mexico invests in Medicaid, the state receives four dollars back from the federal government. The Centennial Care 2.0 waiver proposal cuts will result in the loss of federal money for Medicaid that supports over 50,000 jobs and helps drive the New Mexico economy.

Centennial Care 2.0’s most harmful cuts to Medicaid include:

  • Charging low-income patients with new fees in the form of co-pays and premiums for children in CHIP, the working disabled, and low-income adults living just above the poverty line, which could result in thousands of people losing coverage altogether (as studies have shown);
  • Eliminating retroactive coverage protection that pays for Medicaid applicants’ past medical bills, from three months prior to applying for Medicaid, putting New Mexico’s families in severe medical debt and leaving healthcare providers with uncompensated care costs;
  • Ending a transitional Medicaid program that will result in coverage loss for families that have been living in deep poverty, creating financial hardships and interrupting health coverage when they enter new jobs or accept raises that place them just above the eligibility threshold for Medicaid; and
  • Reducing important health benefits for very low-income adults with dependent children, eliminating Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) protections for children who are 19 and 20 year olds, and opening the door for the HSD secretary to make drastic cuts to more benefits in the future.

WHAT:
LHHS Committee Hearing on the Centennial Care 2.0 Waiver Proposal

WHO/WHEN:       
12:30 p.m.
Presentations about Concerns about Medicaid Cuts
Abuko D. Estrada, Attorney, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty
David Machledt, Ph.D., Senior Policy Analyst, National Health Law Program

2:30 p.m.
Presentation on Medicaid Waiver
HSD Secretary Brent Earnest

4:30 p.m.
Public Comment

WHERE:   
Science and Technology Center Rotunda at UNM
801 University Blvd SE
Albuquerque, NM

Today’s hearing will be the only opportunity for providing comments in Albuquerque. Other public meetings will take place in Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and Las Vegas.

 

Court Rejects Challenge to Earned Sick Leave Law

Ruling Ensures Healthy Workforce Ordinance Will Appear on October 3 Municipal Ballot

 

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Today, in a victory for Albuquerque’s working families, Honorable Judge Shannon Bacon threw out a challenge by business lobbyists to the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance. Today’s ruling ensures that voters will have an opportunity to vote on earned sick days this fall at the October 3, 2017 municipal election.

“Low wage and immigrant workers play a critical role in Albuquerque’s economy, yet they are disproportionately impacted by attacks on minimum wage and efforts to undermine the proposed paid sick leave ordinance,” said Marco Nunez, Worker Justice Coordinator, EL CENTRO de Igualdad y Derechos.  “This victory sends a clear message to corporate interests that prioritize profit over the well-being of our families that our communities will not stand by idly as they attack and chip away at workers’ rights.”

Judge Bacon also upheld voters’ right to vote on citizen-initiated ballot initiatives, rejecting the business interests’ attempt to strike the voters’ democratic rights from the Albuquerque City Charter.

“Albuquerque residents’ right to directly participate in the lawmaking process is a cornerstone of our local democracy,” said Tim Davis, an attorney with the New Mexico Center in Law and Poverty, who argued the case for the community organizations. “Today’s ruling protects this right from attacks by well-connected business interests.”

The ruling arose out of a lawsuit filed against the city by business lobbyists who wanted to remove the earned sick ordinance from the October 2017 ballot. They also sought to cut the minimum wage, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, from $8.80 to $7.50. Community organizations and voters who support both laws intervened in the case to defend them.

The judge also tossed out the challenge to the Albuquerque minimum wage in an oral ruling from the bench yesterday, ruling that the results of the 2012 general election are final and cannot be challenged now. She issued a written opinion today reaffirming her oral ruling. Together with her ruling on the Healthy Workforce Ordinance, today’s rulings dismiss all claims in the lawsuit on both ordinances.

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

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Court Upholds Albuquerque Minimum Wage Law

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Honorable Judge Shannon Bacon threw out a challenge to the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance today, ruling that the results of the 2012 general election are final and cannot be challenged now.

“It’s astonishing and disheartening that business groups were trying to cut hard working New Mexicans’ wages by nearly $3,000 a year,” said Trae Buffin who is a member of OLÉ. “I’m overjoyed that the court agreed with the people and that the minimum wage is safe in Albuquerque.”

The ruling arose out of a lawsuit filed against the city by business lobbyists attempting to end minimum wage, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, and to remove the earned sick days ordinance from the October 2017 ballot. Community organizations and voters who support the law intervened in the case to defend the ordinance.

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

Judge Bacon has not yet ruled on the earned sick days initiative, but indicated at the hearing that she would do so soon.

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

 

 

Landmark Education Trial Against State of New Mexico Ends

Families & School Districts Assert that Students’ Constitutional Rights are being Violated

SANTA FE, NM – Today marks the last day of testimony in an eight-week trial against the state of New Mexico, in a case that alleges the State has violated the constitutional rights of its public school students.

The consolidated lawsuit, which was filed by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) and MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), claims that the State’s arbitrary and inadequate funding of public schools, and lack of necessary monitoring and oversight, deprives children—particularly low-income, Native American, and English language learner students—of a sufficient education, in violation of the New Mexico Constitution.

“It was very clear from the defense that the State is in denial about the educational crisis that New Mexico students face,” said Marisa Bono, MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel. “We look forward to a ruling from the Court that will force the State to stop fiddling while Rome burns, and start providing equal educational opportunities to all students.”

Through the course of the trial, a number of respected national and state experts provided testimony about how New Mexico’s public school system is in crisis. They provided data about the State’s dismal education outcomes, most notably that three out of four students cannot read or write at grade level and two-thirds cannot do math at grade level, that graduation rates are among the lowest in the nation, and a majority of New Mexico graduates are not college and career ready.

“We heard from superintendents from across the state who testified that the lack of resources and quality programs available to schools is harming their students,” said Preston Sanchez, attorney at the Center. “They can’t afford the types of programs they know work, can’t purchase up to date materials and textbooks, can’t provide sufficient afterschool programs, teacher training and even buses.”

Educators and school leaders from across the State discussed the distinct needs of New Mexico’s large population of English language learners and the importance of expanded access to quality bilingual/multicultural education programs and properly trained teachers. PED’s own expert admitted that the State does not provide oversight or monitoring for thousands of English language learners in the State.

Witness testimony addressed the ways in which historical and current injustices have led to disparate outcomes for Native students and English language learner students. Expert witnesses reiterated the need for culturally and linguistically relevant programming as an evidence-based means to improve student performance.

Furthermore, testimony was offered about what steps should be taken to fundamentally improve academic outcomes and close the achievement gap. It was virtually undisputed that high quality preschool and extended learning opportunities like the K-3 Plus Program, which adds 25 more days to the school year for elementary school students, are necessary to ensure that that low income and ELL students start school ready, yet a majority of eligible children in the State do not have access to such programs. Others spoke to the importance of wraparound services in a high poverty state like New Mexico, such as access to social workers and counselors, tutors, and on campus healthcare services that are necessary to mitigate the impact of poverty on learning

Defense witnesses testified under cross examination that the state has made policy choices over the past decade that have benefited higher income New Mexicans and corporations and resulted in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue every year. Defense experts also acknowledged that students who attend high-poverty schools have less access to effective teachers, but the State has failed to provide adequate resources to provide the mentoring and training that teachers need to improve, and the proper compensation for effective teacher recruitment and retention strategies.

The Center’s lawsuit, Yazzie v. State of New Mexico, was filed in March 2014 on behalf of a group of families and school districts including Gallup-McKinley, Rio Rancho, Santa Fe, Cuba, Moriarty/Edgewood, and Lake Arthur. The families represented have children who are English language learners (ELL), Native American or economically disadvantaged and have been negatively impacted by the lack of resources provided to New Mexico public schools. (Click here for information on the case and plaintiff profiles).

The Martinez lawsuit was brought on behalf of parents and public school children from Española, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Zuni, Magdalena, Las Cruces and Gadsden. It was filed in April 2014 by MALDEF following extensive discussions with community groups, local leaders, and parents in New Mexico concerning chronic achievement gaps on standardized tests and other systemic failures. State attorneys sought to dismiss the lawsuit, but the court denied the request and ruled for the first time in New Mexico’s history that education is a fundamental right. (Click here for a fact sheet on the case and a timeline of significant dates.)

The trial for the consolidated lawsuit began on June 12, 2017. It calls for the court to declare the current system of public education constitutionally insufficient, and order the state to provide the programming and resources necessary for all public school students to succeed, as well as ensure that funds are distributed equitably, including for economically disadvantaged and ELL students.

The Center’s legal counsel on the case include Gail Evans, Preston Sanchez, Lauren Winkler, and Christopher Sanchez of the Center along with co-counsel Daniel Yohalem and Mark D. Fine. MALDEF’s lead counsel is Marisa Bono, Southwest regional counsel, and legal counsel include staff attorneys Ernest Herrera and Jack Salmon; E. Martin Estrada, Nick Sidney and Jessica Baril with Munger, Tolles & Olson; Alejandra Avila of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and David Garcia.

State District Court Judge Sarah Singleton has requested that parties submit post-trial briefing and is expected to make a ruling on the case this fall or winter.

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The mission of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is to advance economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. The Center works with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty. Underlying its mission is a vision of New Mexico without poverty, where all peoples’ basic human rights are met. For more information on the Yazzie lawsuit, including plaintiff profiles, please visit: http://nmpovertylaw.org/our-work/education-2/. For media inquiries, please contact Maria Archuleta at (505) 255-2840 or MariaA@nmpovertylaw.org.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information, on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org. For media inquiries, please contact Tony Marcano at (213) 629-2512 ext. 128 or amarcano@maldef.org

Healthy Workforce ABQ Asks for Emergency Court Order to Prevent City from Using Illegal Ballot

Advocates Say Voters Deserve Fair Election on Earned Sick Days Question

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Late Thursday, advocates for the passage of an earned sick leave law in the City of Albuquerque filed an emergency motion in Second Judicial District Court to prevent the City Clerk from using an illegal ballot for the October 3 election.

The Albuquerque City Council decided in a July 10 meeting to print the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance (HWO) on the official ballot without a summary, and the City Clerk intends to print it in 7-point font. Healthy Workforce ABQ, OLÉ, and Albuquerque residents ask the court to ensure Albuquerque voters have a fair election by ordering the use of a ballot that they can read and understand.

“The city is attempting to block Albuquerque voters’ right to enact direct legislation,” said Elizabeth Wagoner, an attorney on the case from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “The city government insists on a ballot that is misleading and confusing. We are asking the court to protect the integrity of the 2017 election.”

The emergency motion argues that because the full text of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance will only fit on the ballot in an illegible and illegally-small font size — approximately 7-point font — the City Clerk should place a legible summary on the ballot and provide a legible, large-text copy of the full ordinance in each voting booth so that voters can read both documents. The city uses the same practice for bond questions.

According to federal voting systems guidelines adopted in Section 1-9-14 of the New Mexico Election Code, election ballots must be printed at a minimum of 8.5-point font or larger to ensure that voters with poor vision can read their ballots.

In their July meeting, the City Council also voted to include an advisory question on the ballot that uses partisan language to advocate against the HWO. The emergency motion argues that this is illegal because the City Charter and the New Mexico Constitution do not permit the Council to use a deceptive workaround to defeat a ballot initiative they do not like. The advocates are also asking the court to order that ballot question to be removed.

The emergency motion can be found here.

HSD to Hold Public Hearing Tomorrow on Proposal to Increase Medicaid Co-Pays

Tomorrow at 9 a.m., New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) will hold a public hearing to gather comment on its proposal to increase co-pays for Medicaid patients. This proposal faced opposition from HSD’s own stakeholder group when proposed last year and still faces widespread opposition.

Over 20 groups and individuals have signed on with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty in comments submitted to HSD opposing the proposal, including the New Mexico Medical Society, New Mexico Academy of Family Physicians, New Mexico Pediatric Society, New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness, and Parents Reaching Out among others. These groups assert that a wide body of research has shown that such fees decrease access to necessary medical care, shift costs to providers, and will have negative consequences for our healthcare system and state economy.

The aforementioned comments on the proposal can be found here.

What:   Public Comment Hearing

Who:     HSD

When:  Friday, July 14, 2017 at 9 a.m. MST

Where: Rio Grande Conference Room, Toney Anaya Building, 2550 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM 87505