Thursday, June 8, 2023

Bipartisan Support Delivers for Healthcare


Gina DeBlassie, the governor’s advisor on healthcare policy, described the 11th-hour rescue of the malpractice bill.

Because of a flaw in medical malpractice legislation passed in 2021, doctors at independent outpatient facilities couldn’t get insurance, and doctors were leaving the state. Republicans and some Democrats raised the roof. Dem leadership just didn’t see the urgency. One bill had failed, and another was stalled.

Late one night in the governor’s office, a call to an insurance representative confirmed that her company would not insure doctors of independent facilities. It was not an idle threat. At that point the governor waded into the stalemate between trial lawyers and doctors and brokered a compromise, with help from party leaders.

Senate Bill 521, sponsored by the two parties’ leaders, passed with just three days left in the session.

That was a high-profile bill. Also passed and signed by the governor were a number of other healthcare measures that got little or no attention. Together, they represent a “very successful session for healthcare,” DeBlassie told New Mexico Press Women recently.

Give a cheer for the governor’s Rural Healthcare Delivery Fund, intended to relieve healthcare shortages in rural areas. The bipartisan Senate Bill 7 will make grants to providers, clinics and hospitals to expand care in counties with fewer than 100,000 people. The grants would cover operating losses for up to five years.

“We asked for $200 million and got $80 million,” DeBlassie said. “One of the things we need to talk about is what services do we need where and what makes sense.”

Many bills flew under the radar.

SB 245, another governor’s bill with bipartisan sponsorship, allows the state to establish a rural emergency hospital license that enables some rural health facilities to qualify for enhanced federal healthcare reimbursement as a Rural Emergency Hospital. An REH must provide emergency department services around the clock and have a transfer agreement with a Level 1 or 2 Trauma Center. The new license and the improved federal reimbursement will be a lifeline to struggling rural hospitals. DeBlassie expects Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa to be the first REH.

Lawmakers passed three important insurance mandates.

SB 273 requires health insurance companies to raise reimbursement rates for behavioral health providers and substance use disorder services and cover couples, marriage, and family therapy without requiring prior authorization or diagnosis.

“Senate Bill 273 stops New Mexico’s short-sighted treatment for behavioral health and Substance Use Disorders and provides for a reimbursement framework which will encourage behavioral health providers to come to New Mexico, and stay in New Mexico,” said Sen. Martin Hickey, D-Albuquerque, a physician.

HB 131 requires group health insurance under the state Health Care Purchasing Act to cover custom orthotic devices and prosthetics to the same extent as Medicare. It’s the nation’s first such bill. HB 27 requires the same insurers to cover breast cancer screenings, along with follow-up screenings recommended by doctors. Often, because of cost, women don’t get the additional screenings they need. And HB 75 mandates that cost-sharing restrictions on chiropractic services be no more restrictive than for primary doctor visits.

Five bills addressed took on prescription drug affordability, but only SB 51, which came from the governor’s Prescription Drug Task Force, is now law. Passed in the session’s final minutes, it mandates that discounts provided to pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, or wholesalers be applied to patients’ out-of-pocket costs.

A few things to note: With the malpractice bill, the governor pulled the Dems’ heads from the sand so we wouldn’t lose more doctors. Two bills will make a meaningful difference in rural healthcare, which desperately need help. And many of these bills not only had bipartisan support but bipartisan sponsors from the extreme ends of the political spectrum, proving that there’s still a lot the two parties can accomplish together.



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