Area representatives: Health care plan not ready

By Sarah Meyer: Freedom New Mexico

Area representatives and senators say Gov. Bill Richardson’s universal health care plan is a good idea, but it’s not ready for implementation and cost remains a question.

Richardson wants to extend health coverage to uninsured New Mexicans.

A summary of the plan states that the goal of insurance reform is “to make coverage more affordable and accessible” and “to assure everyone has health coverage.”

The Health Care Authority is supposed to reduce bureaucracy and create a single point of accountability.

“The vast majority of uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or coverage through their employer or spouse but choose not to participate,” said Rep. Keith Gardner, R-Poswell.

“I think it’s going to be interesting. The problem is, the devil’s in the details,” he said. “Are people willing to pay more for less coverage?”

The changes need to be made in “small steps rather than a massive overhaul,” Gardner said, adding that the state needs to “build on what’s positive, and be very, very judicious and careful” in passing any legislation.

Gardner said he is “deeply concerned” about the cost of the plan.

Richardson has posted a 92-page draft bill for discussion regarding his plan for universal health coverage. Budget requests in this bill total $4.6 million.

The governor’s plan, “Health Solutions New Mexico,” aims to “achieve universal health coverage, contain health care costs and improve health care access and quality for New Mexicans.” The draft bill establishes a Health Care Authority, which will create advisory councils.

Rep. José “Joe” Campos, D-Santa Rosa, said he has some concerns about the plan and believes it will take longer than 30 days to resolve.

“We’re going to be able to solve some of the problems,” he said, explaining that he thinks legislators will be able to establish a format and direction to study the topic further.
“Directly or indirectly, we all pay for medical costs,” he said.

“I think we’ll move toward health care coverage for more folks,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton.

“There’s no good indication of what it’s going to cost, said Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis. “I don’t know how we can solve a problem that hasn’t even been defined.”

Education funding formula
Legislators will consider a new funding formula for education.

“Most in education agree its a good approach,” said Harden. “Money available to implement the change becomes the question.”

Sen. Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, said the new formula would increase education funding by 13 to 15 percent.

“The Legislative Finance Committee says this is a commitment of $25 million,” she said. “I don’t think the money’s going to be there.”

Moore said the proposed funding formula is “the most fair I’ve seen,” but questioned the availability of money.

Gardner also sees positive aspects in the proposal. “The problem is, how are we going to fund it?”

He said he won’t support a tax increase, but would support the plan if it can be funded with current revenues.

“We need to be more efficient in spending,” he said.

Gov. Richardson’s Investment Partnership is a $1.6 billion statewide transportation expansion and infrastructure improvement project. Legislators say the project is $486 million short of what it was supposed to accomplish, mostly because of increased material costs.

The project was intended to improve state highways, Gardner said, but funds seem to have been diverted to other projects, which don’t benefit eastern New Mexico.

“We need to develop a priority list,” said Campos. “We need to look at a fair and equitable system.”

He said roads are important to rural communities. “Without transportation, rural communities would just fade away.”

Harden said not enough money is available to make up the shortfall.

Kernan said she’d like to see N.M. 206 from Portales to Dora “first on the list.”

Other issues
• Funding for corrections.

• Water, including funding for a pipeline to communities south of Ute Lake and for soil and water conservation.

• Ethics — limiting campaign contributions, changes to the election code

• Capital outlay requests — Clovis/Curry: City hall, roads, water treatment, special events center. Melrose: New fire station, streetscape. Fort Sumner: Completion of Bosque Redondo project, completion of transfer station. Portales: infrastructure for affordable housing projects.

• Regulatory issues — Regulations implemented by various state departments, which have bypassed the legislative process.