Burst of enthusiasm advances NM Health Security bill

by Frank White

Universal health care backers in New Mexico got further than they’ve ever been in the recently concluded legislative session, and they may have the Trump Administration to partially thank.

“What’s happening in Washington was really positive and helpful for us, oddly enough,” said Mary Feldblum, the executive director of the Health Security for New Mexicans Campaign. “The elections have energized a lot of young people.”

That burst of civic energy, backed by decades of other organizing efforts and a special letter writing campaign (the old fashioned kind with stamps and envelopes), propelled HB 101 all the way to the floor of the state house. But three conservative Democrats threatened to torpedo the bill, efforts made easier by the razor-thin Democratic majority.

The bill would have laid the groundwork to study and then implement a statewide health plan that would automatically cover most New Mexicans, using sliding scale premiums, employer contributions, and federal grants.

House leadership, which had made the legislation a priority, sent it to a committee that removed many of the long-term planning details but left intact the basic idea of getting the ball rolling.

“What it became was a fiscal analysis bill,” Feldblum said. In other words, the first step in what was going to be a multi-step legislative process anyway.

The revamped version passed the House, with even one Republican joining in.

“After the vote, the legislators on the Democratic side applauded,” Feldblum said. “In all my years of lobbying, I’ve never seen that.”

The delay, however, ultimately doomed the bill in the Senate, despite Democratic control and widespread support there. With the chamber’s bandwidth taken up by a particularly contentious state budget, the clock ran out before the revamped bill could advance.

Organizers’ focus now shifts to the 2018 session, as well as the state governor’s race that same year. Republican Gov. Susana Martinez will be term-limited out, and it could be a blockbuster political race featuring some of the most prominent names in state politics.

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