Health care protections passed for New Mexicans

NOTE:  all the bills mentioned as not yet signed have been signed.

The dental therapist bill has finally passed New Mexico’s legislature and been signed by the governor, after years of persistent effort.

This bill (HB 308) creates a new intermediate class of dental providers licensed to provide basic dental treatments at a much lower cost than a fully trained dentist. The intention is that therapists will work primarily in small communities where there are no dentists. They will refer complex cases to dentists.

This bill is significant for a couple of reasons.

First, health care is not health care without dental health. Poor dental health makes the whole body sicker. This bill will make basic dental care accessible and can be expected to improve the health of many thousands of rural and small town New Mexicans.

Second, this bill tackles directly a critical problem of our health care system: lack of providers. It creates a new class of providers and an incentive for people who could not afford dental school to train for this profession.

It will take a few years for this program to be implemented. It has the potential for very significant positive effect.

Here are some of the other health care bills that succeeded in this legislative session. At the time of this writing, only Senate Bill 131 has been signed.

House Bill 436 aligns New Mexico with the patient protections of the federal Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. Its intention is to assure that those protections will continue for New Mexicans even if portions or the entirety of the ACA are repealed or struck down.

Senate Bill 337 addresses a nasty practice called surprise billing. This occurs when a patient goes to a clinic or hospital, often to an emergency department, that is within the network of the patient’s health plan, and then receives a bill from a medical provider at out-of-network rates. Usually this happens because the hospital or clinic uses the services of a doctor, possibly a specialist, who is outside the patient’s network. As I wrote in 2016 (see triplespacedagain.com), these bills can be staggeringly high. SB 337 regulates this practice to limit or prevent most surprise billing.

Senate Bill 131 creates the Interagency Pharmacies Purchasing Council. As the name implies, this bill creates a cooperative arrangement for nine state agencies that purchase pharmaceuticals, including several agencies that are already collaborating. The legislative fiscal impact report for this bill says the nine constituent state agencies spent more than $703 million on prescription drugs in fiscal year 18. Just one cost-containment technique, bulk purchasing of pharmaceuticals, could potentially save between $14 million and $35 million annually.

Finally, New Mexico took an exploratory step toward a major restructuring of how we pay for healthcare. House Memorial 92 authorizes a study of this proposal, to be undertaken by the Legislative Finance Committee.  As a memorial, it does not require the governor’s signature. The ultimate aim would be a program that ensures health care coverage to virtually all New Mexicans through a combination of public and private financing. It would replace the current insurance system with cooperative organizations intended to simplify the system, improve patient access to health care, significantly reduce cost and keep healthcare and insurance dollars in New Mexico.

The bill that would have implemented this program was House Bill 295, called the Health Security Act, which did not pass.

The health security proposal has been around for several years. It was flagged by the business lobby as a problem bill, in part because it reduces the role of private insurance, but looks like an idea worth consideration. I hope in the coming interim, the advocates for this concepts hold some well publicized town halls around the state to give not just legislators but our citizens a chance to learn more about it.

Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2019

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