Editor’s Note: Before the beginning of the 2021 legislative session in Santa Fe, the Sun published a guest column headlined “How affordable health care can become a reality in New Mexico.” The author, Véronique De Jaegher, an active advocate at the grassroots level for the New Mexico Health Security Plan, has provided an update on the enabling legislation.
Let me bring you up to date on what has happened to House Bill 203 during this session of the New Mexico legislature. HB203 would have funded the planning and design phase of the New Mexico Health Security Plan, a cooperative-style program that will provide guaranteed, comprehensive health care coverage to most New Mexicans.
But the bill never made it out of the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a longtime Democratic legislator who represents San Juan and McKinley Counties.
With just a couple of days left in the legislative session, it’s clear that HB203 is not going anywhere. And it turns out that that’s actually okay.
Every year, the legislature must develop a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. In some years, legislators also get to allocate a certain amount of funding on their own initiative to projects and programs that are important for their constituents and the state. This session, legislators who support the Health Security Plan committed $575,000 for the planning and design process.
These monies are included in Senate Bill 377—the so-called “Junior” bill. This general appropriation and expenditure bill was passed by the House this week and is now back in the Senate for concurrence. It will then go to the governor for her signature.
Oddly enough, the need for a workaround also occurred in 2019 with legislation that would have begun the HSP planning process, starting with a cost analysis of the Health Security Plan. That bill didn’t pass, but the legislature appropriated funding that allowed the analysis to proceed. The resulting report showed that the Health Security Plan will slow rising health care costs and produce estimated savings of $1.6 billion to $2.7 billion in the first five years of the plan’s operation, compared to what will be spent during that period on health care in New Mexico if we continue with the current system
With the needed funding in the 2021 Junior, HSP planning will go forward under the auspices of the Office of the Superintendent of Insurance.
Under the provisions of the $575,000 appropriation in Junior, Superintendent of Insurance Russell Toal, an appointed state executive, will carry out three specific and interconnected assignments:
- establish an advisory council
- seek technical advice and assistance
- research and design a system of comprehensive health coverage for all New Mexicans.
On behalf of my fellow Health Security Plan advocates and the citizens of this state, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank HB203’s sponsors and the legislators who allocated their Junior funds to keep alive the dream of a day when hard-working New Mexican families will have affordable health coverage, equivalent to the comprehensive coverage enjoyed by state employees.