UPDATE Feb. 19, 2014, 11:40 a.m.: The Medicaid fraud definition, the farm-fresh produce in public schools, the mental health nursing program and the emergency procurement and audits measure are stuck in committee. The marijuana legalization bill died in committee. The ban on sales of e-cigs to minors passed the House and is awaiting a vote in the Senate. The DD Waiver Program 5-year plan is awaiting a vote in the Senate.
Lawmakers have introduced a series of public health-related bills during the legislative session, including tackling marijuana legalization, Medicaid fraud, behavioral health fallout, e-cigarettes and locally grown produce in school lunches.
Here's a rundown of the measures, some of which will be discussed on this week's KUNM Call In Show:
Clarify Definition of Medicaid Fraud—SB 33
Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) and Rep. James Madalena (D-Jemez) are sponsoring a bill that would define a "credible allegation of fraud" after 15 New Mexico behavioral health providers lost their contracts over such allegations last year. The measure specifies that it intends "to clarify that, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, mere errors found during the course of an audit, billing errors that are attributable to human error, and inadvertent billing and processing errors do not constitute Medicaid fraud." The legislation would also make it so that someone accused of fraud could seek a judicial review.
Health Care Emergency Procurement and Audits—SB 50
This measure sponsored by Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) and Rep. Eliseo Alcon (D-Milan) addresses several of the issues that have come up as a result of the behavioral health controversy. Among other things, the bill would do the following:
• Give the attorney general, state auditor and Legislative Finance Committee the ability to seek judicial review of purchasing practices
• Eliminate the health care exemption to the procurement code
• Clarify that investigation of fraud is not an emergency condition
• Require the state to contract audit services through the usual processes
Keller and Alcon are also seeking $100,000 to fund the creation of a list of approved audit firms to be created by the state auditor.
No Sale of E-Cigarettes to Minors—HB 15
Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec) has introduced a bill that would include e-cigs in the Tobacco Products Act and prevent their sale to minors statewide. The FDA has not yet studied he safety and efficacy of the products and health risks are unknown. E-cig sales were expected to reach $2 billion in 2013. The CDC reports that e-cigarette use is on the rise among middle-school and high-school-aged youth.
Albuquerque banned the sale of these vaporizers to minors in early January. Utah, New Jersey and North Dakota have banned their use in indoor public spaces. Los Angeles and New York City voted to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes in the same way as other tobacco products.
Marijuana Possession, Use and Regulation—SJR 10
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) introduced a joint resolution proposing the issue of marijuana legalization be put before voters in the next general election. If voted in, the state's Constitution would be amended to allow possession and personal use of marijuana for people who are 21 and older. The state would also create rules for how marijuana is grown, sold and taxed. Colorado and Washington have legalized recreational marijuana. Twenty-one states—including New Mexico—and Washington, D.C., have medical marijuana laws on the books.
NM Grown Fresh Produce for School Meals—HB 81
Rep. Don Tripp (R-Socorro) and Sen. Tim Keller (D-Albuquerque) are sponsoring a measure that would give $1.4 million to public schools to buy produce from New Mexico farmers. After federal mandates changed, schools are required to serve more fruit and vegetables. Local food advocates say the money would help support the local economy, while fighting both obesity, hunger and nutritional deficiencies among the state's youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention links physical health, hunger and school performance. The costs of fruits and vegetables has increased more than 77 percent since 1989, while the price for sweets and fats dropped 33 percent, according to the Department of Health.
Mental Health Nursing Program—SB 35
Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) is seeking $170,000 every year for the mental health nurse practitioner program at New Mexico State University. The money would pay for 10 part-time nurses to teach and supervise clinical projects and two mobile telehealth units for summer immersion programs, among other things. According to the Legislative Finance Committee report: NMSU has the only graduate mental health nursing program in New Mexico. Nurse practitioners who graduate from the school can diagnose and treat mental health illnesses and prescribe medications. Nurses specializing in mental health and midwifery are needed in rural areas, and New Mexico faces a shortage of mental health professionals. Gov. Susana Martinez mentioned training more doctors and nurses and keeping them in New Mexico during her 2014 State of the State address.
Developmental Disabilities Program 5-Year Plan—SB 55
Sen. William Soules (D-Las Cruces) is sponsoring a measure that would require the state to create a plan to increase the developmental disabilities Medicaid waiver program. According to the Legislative Finance Committee report: About 4,000 people get services through the program and 6,200 are on the waiting list that is 8- to 10-years-long. The DOH and Martinez did not recommend any additional funds to the program this year, but the LFC suggested a $4.1 million boost. A task force estimated it would take an infusion of $83 million in state funding to shorten the wait to three years. HSD says there would have to be more providers in the state if the number of developmentally disabled people eligible for the waiver increased. Last year, the waiver program returned to the state $8.5 million it had been allocated.