.....Advertisement.....
.....Advertisement.....

Richardson unhappy with health bill

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

SANTA FE – A little past midway in the 30-day legislative session, Gov. Bill Richardson does not like what he sees happening to his highest legislative priority: universal health care for New Mexicans.Up until Wednesday, he said, he saw little action on his health care agenda, which was bad enough. But on Wednesday the House Health and Government Affairs Committee delivered what the governor called, in many different words, “an unacceptable bill.”HB 62, known as the Health Solutions bill, backed by the governor and much of the health insurance and health industry, was significantly amended during a meeting earlier in the morning and the committee substitute bill was approved.Among the changes was an amendment doing away with the universal “mandate” that required everyone to have coverage.A member of that committee, Rep. Jeannette Wallace, R-Los Alamos, Sandoval and Santa Fe, said the original bill had many flaws.“We’d like to look at it, study it,” she said. “It’s a complicated bill and we’re on a short session. Everyday we look at it, there are two more amendments.”The original bill included a provision requiring employers with more than six employees to pay $500 for each full-time employee and $250 for each part-time employee annually, to be offset by any premiums paid for health coverage.“That left us distraught,” Wallace said. “That’s been removed.” “Do you think the 400,000 uninsured New Mexicans care that legislators think this issue is too difficult to handle in a short, 30-day session? No, they don’t,” said the governor during a press conference in the Cabinet Room at the Capitol. “And if the members of that committee think this is over, they are sorely mistaken.”The house committee also removed a key responsibility of the Health Coverage Authority that the governor-backed bill had called for to manage the new system, by denying it regulatory power.Richardson said it was a “turf” problem and too much fuss about the bureaucracy.He said that he had compromised on the composition of the authority, allowing the legislature to appoint half the 10-member board, but that the executive director of the authority should not be appointed by the legislature, as the committee prefers.“This is an executive function,” he said. “I’m not giving up that authority.”The amended bill, which is on its way to the Appropriations and Finance Committee, would commission the authority to study the health insurance problem and report back in October 2009.“I want the public to know that so far it’s a do-nothing legislature,” the governor said.Wallace was not optimistic about the bill’s chances, when every time it was debated somebody else saw something they wanted to add or change.“I don’t think it’s going to be passed unless we’re called back into special session,” Wallace said.A rival bill, the Health Security Act won passage by the Senate Public Affairs Committee earlier this week, but has two more committees to clear with time running out. That one, a more thorough remake of the insurance system, would put all New Mexicans in a single pool of coverage in order to reduce costs and the role of the insurance industry.The House Health and Government Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider the Health Security Act today.On other legislative priorities, Richardson expressed general satisfaction. He said ethics reform, domestic partner legislation, stem cell research and his crime package were all moving forward.Returning to health care, he said, “We don’t need any more studies or task forces. I’m sick of studies and task forces.”