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Lawmaker's Bill Targets Emergency Status Used In Behavioral Health Crisis

Deborah Martinez

When Medicaid funding for 15 of New Mexico’s behavioral health providers was frozen earlier this summer, lawmakers began hearing from their constituents.

Senator Tim Keller says people in his district in southeast Albuquerque are extremely upset. Now Keller has drafted a piece of legislation he hopes will prevent this kind of situation from happening again. 

Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier invoked emergency status in February when she ordered a no-bid private audit and later froze Medicaid funding to the local behavioral health providers. That emergency status allowed the state to sign no-bid contracts with Arizona providers to take over operations.

Senator Keller calls this move by Republican Governor Susana Martinez's administration secretive, and a subversion of the state's procurement system.

The Democrat's draft legislation would take the power to invoke emergency status away from appointees of the Governor. It would also create an oversight board to vet behavioral health providers publicly.

“So in this situation we're looking at no contracts longer than three months," Keller said, "and a requirement that automatically after those three months those contracts have to go out to bid."  He added that would change the Martinez Administration's practice of using emergency status in contract procurement in New Mexico.

Kellerwill likely have to wait until January to put his ideas before his colleagues in the state legislature.  Even if  passed, his bill would likely be vetoed by the governor, but Keller added that the legislature could override a veto.

HSD officials have said the Arizona contractors will continue to provide services in the new year as part of the state's new Centennial Care Medicaid system, even though their contracts will expire at the end of 2013. 

See the video that Senator Keller posted on his Twitter feed about the behavioral health crisis, here.

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