There are now four major health care reform bills in the hopper in the House and Senate-with more to come. The Gov's bill, Health Solutions, is, of course, the big banana. It's a hybrid public-private plan with 98 pages of insurance reforms, a health care authority and mechanisms for coverage (i.e. mandates for individuals and employers). The Health Security bill is a different approach resembling Medicare on a state level, and it has many supporters. For the second year in a row, Dr. JR Damron, a Santa Fe radiologist and former Republican gubernatorial candidate, has proposed the Health Exchange, essentially a state brokerage to simplify the selection of private insurance policies. Rep. Danice Picraux and I have suggested another version of a Health Care Authority to present a plan for universal to the legislature for debate during next year's long session. There's also a bill to plan for electronic claims submission by '09 and a plan for electronic medical records by '10.
There's more to come, including insurance reforms to prevent insurance companies from denying preexisting conditions and raising the price when subscribers get sick. I've introduced some funding to retain and recruit health care professionals and a task force to plan for chronic disease management, and thus control rising medical costs. Those are important pieces of the puzzle regardless of what happens elsewhere.
It's a health policy wonk's dream, and I plead guilty to that charge… but for most legislators it's complex, arcane, scary stuff, and almost any excuse will do to put it off, tune out or beg off. That leaves fertile fields for those who'd like to preserve the status quo-and they are beginning to plow old grounds with claims that reform will "drive insurance companies from the state," "enslave doctors," ( this from the Rio Grande Foundation) and "create huge waiting lines" for urgent operations. Refuting these bogus claims takes valuable time "off message," and diverts attention from the major fact of 430,000 people without insurance in NM, premiums rising at four times the price index, and studies repeating the conclusion that doing nothing is more costly than taking action.
It will take real citizen involvement, focus and leadership to move this issue forward. But today's a good day-and I have faith.
The House Health and Government Affairs Committee will be tackling the bills this week in Room 309, and it should be a good show. Look out for amendments and substitutions. Check out the legislative web site at www. legis.state.nm.us for more details. Meanwhile the Senators have been caucusing and reviewing the proposals. Stay tuned when they swing into action the following week.