How affordable health care can become a reality in New Mexico

by Véronique De Jaegher | January 15, 2021
4 min read
Grassroots activists Véronique De Jaegher and husband Bill Lindenau at an informational booth at the 2019 Mimbres Harvest Festival

My extended family is fortunate. All of its members have quality health care at a reasonable cost, with very low copays and no deductibles. None of them can ever be bankrupted by medical bills. I am the exception. That is because they all live in Belgium, where I was born and grew up.

Veronique De Jaegher
Véronique De Jaegher

I am glad to be a U.S. citizen and have lived in Sierra County for more than 20 years, but, like many people, I work to stay healthy and out of doctors’ offices, since my insurance has high deductibles and copays so that I can afford the premiums. The U.S. health care system costs twice that of any other advanced country, while our health outcomes are near the bottom of the chart. I know we can do better.

Our system is neither healthy nor caring. Preventive medicine cannot be practiced when patients cannot afford to access it or pay for their medications. This undermines the general health of the population, especially the disadvantaged, and increases costs for everyone. High drug prices, excessive CEO salaries, stock buybacks and shareholder dividends that are driving up the cost of health care need to be controlled or eliminated from the delivery system.

Help is on the way! The New Mexico Health Security Plan, which calls for the state to set up its own program to provide health care coverage for most New Mexicans, has been worked on by a diverse group of stakeholders for more than 20 years. To move this game-changing plan forward, the Health Security Planning and Design Board Act will be introduced in the 2021 legislative session.

The Health Security Plan will offer enrollees the comprehensive benefits enjoyed by state employees, including mental health care, freedom of choice of health care provider (no more networks), and protection for those with preexisting conditions. The HSP will cover most New Mexicans, but federal employees and those in the military will retain their current coverage. In addition, Native American tribes and large, self-insured employers will have the option to join the HSP. Seniors will not lose any of the benefits or rights they have under Medicare.

HSP will operate like a cooperative. It will be directed by a 15-member citizens commission that is geographically representative and publicly accountable. Coverage will be paid for by existing public dollars (such as Medicaid), sliding-scale premiums (with caps) and employer contributions. If you lose your job or change jobs, your health coverage stays with you.

What other advantages are built into the HSP? Bulk purchasing of drugs will lower the cost of prescriptions. Global budgeting, which provides a fixed amount of funding for a fixed period of time for a specified population, rather than fixed rates for individual services or cases, will help to stabilize the finances of hospitals and clinics. This will be a particular boon to rural communities.

Businesses will experience reduced administrative costs by eliminating the need to purchase, manage and monitor complicated private insurance. The HSP will also help to attract and retain skilled workers in our state, as quality health care will be a reality for all New Mexico residents. In addition, workers compensation and automobile insurance premiums will be reduced for HSP members, including employers, since the plan would cover medical care for injuries resulting from workplace events or auto accidents.

HSP measures such as bulk purchasing of drugs and grouping most state residents in one health coverage pool will also lower administrative costs for health care providers, as well as for HSP itself.

Three separate studies, including one completed for the legislature in 2020 by independent analyst KNG Health Consulting, have shown that the Health Security Plan will slow rising health care costs. KNG estimated savings of $1.6 billion to $2.7 billion in the first five years of HSP’s operation, compared to what will be spent during that period on health care in New Mexico if we continue with the current system.

We can endure more years of rapidly rising drug prices, ever-increasing out-of-pocket costs, financially struggling hospitals, health care providers frustrated by endless paperwork, employers straining to find affordable health benefits for their employees, and even insured patients finding themselves unable to pay inflated hospital bills.

Or, we can invest in the Health Security Plan, a path toward real health security for Sierra County residents and all New Mexicans.

If you would like to know more about this solution and how you can support its enactment, visit

If you have a personal story about how the current health care system has not worked for you, the New Mexico Health Stories Project would like to hear from you. The project collects stories of New Mexicans who have struggled with the current health care system and makes them available on its website, Facebook page and other social media to illuminate how the HSP will make a difference in real lives. Sharing stories can influence others, build empathy, inspire action and transform opinions.

Thank you for caring, and stay healthy.

UPDATE: The Health Security Planning and Design Board Act was introduced on Jan. 28 as HB203.  It has two House committee referrals: Health and Human Services, and Appropriation.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

1 thought on “How affordable health care can become a reality in New Mexico”

  1. This is how truly affordable health care begins. In a country where a mother is four times more likely to die in childbirth than in Canada, where many people face bankruptcy due to medical expenses, where insurance companies determine whether or not you get the care you need; this is the answer. The New Mexico Health Security Plan is a local grassroots effort to give quality health care to everyone who needs it and also reduce the cost to the taxpayer. Out of the 11 most wealthy countries in the world, we pay the most for health care and receive the worst outcomes. If this plan is implemented in New Mexico we will be the example that leads the rest of the country. Wouldn’t it be great to be an example of progress and innovation instead of an example of poverty and desperation?

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