Senator Udall warns of ACA change as State Legislators grapple with budget.

Senator Tom Udall enters House Chamber, accompanied by State Representative Christine Trujillo and other legislators.

United States Senator Tom Udall (D- New Mexico) addressed a joint session of the state legislature this afternoon at the Roundhouse, warning of the hazards ahead should change to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) take place as proposed by Congressional Republicans and President Trump.

State lawmakers took a break from busy committee schedules and floor action related to the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget as well as dealing with a bill to fund a court system running out of money, to listen to Udall, who started his address with a condemnation of President Trump’s immigration and refugee ban, contending the action of the executive was not the way America worked.

He then spoke to the Republican attack on Obamacare.

“Right out of the gate the Republicans in the Congress and the President began repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but they didn’t put forth an alternative plan to make sure that people keep the health care they have. They still haven’t.

“The threat of repeal with no replacement has created enormous uncertainty for Americans, in the marketplace and in state legislatures.

“My office has received hundreds of calls and emails from New Mexicans who … are frightened that their medical care will be taken away from them, from their children, and from their elderly parents.”

Udall acknowledged that the ACA was not perfect, but added “it has helped millions of Americans, and hundreds and thousands of New Mexicans.

“And we should work on a bipartisan basis to improve it, not throw it in the garbage and risk millions of people’s health and hurt the economy in New Mexico and throughout the country,” concluded Udall.

It was a day fraught with angst, but also advocacy, for healthcare at the state capitol.

Just a few hours before Udall’s address, The Candle was forwarded an email from lawyers with the NM Center on Law and Poverty (the Center) to their allies and constituencies stating they “are extremely concerned about the state of the budget.”

The Center has been advocating for fully funding the state’s Medicaid program and “… startup funding to have Medicaid cover home visiting services for young children …”

The email called on people to contact their legislators and the governor, as rumors indicate that if there are further shortfalls in revenue it would “force deep cuts to healthcare, schools, and every agency.”

The Center’s lawyers wrote, “It is especially important to advocate now for raising revenues. Please consider speaking with legislators, writing letters and op-eds, and activating your networks to participate in call-in actions over the next few weeks …”

Pointing to the dangers of not acting, the Center warned people that elected officials “need to hear loud and clear that more cuts are unacceptable and that we must raise revenue. There are many responsible solutions that would not hurt our families …” They listed revenue enhancement proposals such as:

  1. ending certain tax credits for hospitals (the money is raised can go to Medicaid to draw down a $4 to $1 federal match that eventually gets returned to the hospitals, leaving them whole);
  2. raising alcohol and tobacco taxes;
  3. ending income tax breaks and a capital gains deduction that benefit the highest income households;
  4. closing sales tax loopholes such as for remote internet sellers and car sales; and
  5. freezing corporate tax breaks.

The Center wrapped up their email emphasizing, “These are all ways to end tax loopholes that are unnecessary, unfair, and losing money for the state.”

Longer-term Planning Proposal for a Health Care Plan Alternative.

And even earlier on Monday morning the House Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony regarding the Health Security Act (HB 101) filed by Representative Roberto “Bobby” J. Gonzales (D-Taos).

According to the Fiscal Impact Report submitted for HB 101, the “bill proposes to enact the Health Security Act to create a program that ensures health care coverage to virtually all New Mexicans through a combination of public and private financing, control escalating health care costs, and improve the health care of New Mexicans.”

Chairwoman of the committee, Deborah Armstrong (D-Albuquerque), a co-sponsor of the bill, provided an explanation of the bill with detailed input from Mary Feldblum, Executive Director of The Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign.

The bill is being advanced as a longer-term plan for New Mexicans to be ready should the ACA drastically change, as well as potentially being an alternative for New Mexicans health care plans a few years down the road.

As stated in an email from the Campaign, HB 101 has a companion bill, SB 172. Both bills would:

“… set up the NM Health Security Plan, a public, statewide health plan that would cover most New Mexicans. The Health Security Act would shift private insurance to a supplemental role and guarantee access to comprehensive, affordable, quality health care coverage, regardless of individuals’ income level, health status, or employment status. Sliding-scale, income-based premiums would go into a dedicated fund to pay for New Mexicans’ health care needs. With the Affordable Care Act’s future in question, it is more important than ever for New Mexico to enact this well-vetted, homegrown plan.”

As the state’s legislative session is entering its third week, the debate surrounding healthcare is beginning to take on an urgent tenor.

US Senator Udall’s presence and speech at the Roundhouse today accentuated the importance of both state and federal action to ensure that New Mexicans continue to have access to good and fair health plans.

In the days ahead The Candle will post additional stories on healthcare proposals, state budget, and revenue enhancement debates – as they are intrinsically entwined.