NM insurance industry once more foils the will of the people

Despite the fact that the NM Health Securities Act is the only universal health care proposal in New Mexico that has the support of 144 organizations, spanning 31 counties and cities, the health insurance industry was able once more to prevent its passage in the state legislature. Supporters made calls and packed the committee hearings. We had great testimony from diverse interests. There was every indication that if the Health Security Act would make it to the floor of either house and would pass. So what happened?

On the House Side: Governor Richardson, who continues to insist on solutions that rely on private insurance, was able to use his pull with the House Speaker, Rep. Ben Lujan, to get the bill tabled in its first committee, House Business and Industry. For all practical purposes that means that from the House of Representatives side the bill was dead.

On the Senate Side: We beat the insurance industry and were thrilled to see the passage of the Health Security Act in two committees (Senate Public Affairs and Senate Judiciary). Unfortunately, the insurance industry's close relationship with Senate President Pro Tem Senator Tim Jennings, spurred the latter to push hard to keep the bill bottled up in the Senate Finance Committee.

Previously, a political struggle took place for the leadership of the NM Senate between Senator Carlos Cisnero, the Senate sponsor of HAS, and Senator Tim Jennings. With the help of a number of Republican State Senators, Jennings won over Cisneros in a very close contest

Health Insurance Reforms Failed As Well

Preventing the Health Security Act from getting to the floor of the senate and house for a vote was not the only goal of the insurance industry.

The governor pushed for the passage of three bills that would regulate health insurance companies. These bills would (1) limit small-group premium increases; (2) require insurers to offer health insurance policies to any individual who applied, regardless of health status (guaranteed issue); and (3) require insurers to spend 85% of the premiums collected on direct health care services.

All three bills were killed as a result of the insurance industry influence.

One of many factors that may have impeded the passage of this legislation, was the fact that the coalition of labor and community groups that made an Obama victory possible in New Mexico and by extension throughout the country, was not fully united in support of HAS. Absent from legislative committee hearings were labor and some of the more prominent community representatives. The fact that the Governor and also the Obama administration took a stand against any Single Payer legislation, influenced the decisions of a number of labor and community groups to either stand mute or come out in opposition to the bill, fearing either lack of funding or negative job creation legislations from the power structure.

One of the significant follow-up results from this legislative session, was the fact that the executive committee of the New Mexico AFL-CIO decided to support HR 676, the Federal sngle Payer Bill. There is a process of self evaluation taking place amongst the HAS leadership so that the bill would pass at the next legislative session.