Friday, February 1, 2008
House Panel Passes State Health Care Bill
By Winthrop Quigley
Copyright ©2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
SANTA FE Legislation that would replace most private health insurance with a single state-controlled funding system was unanimously passed by a House committee Thursday with no dissent and no recommendation.
The six members of the eight-member House Health and Government Affairs Committee who were present sent the Health Security Act along to its next stop, the House Judiciary Committee.
The so-called single payer bill is significantly different from Gov. Bill Richardson's proposal for universal health coverage.
Richardson's bill would keep private insurance but require every person to have coverage. Most employers who don't provide health benefits for workers would have to contribute to a fund.
His measure was gutted by the same committee that passed along the single payer plan, but it will get a new hearing in House Appropriations and Finance possibly as early as today.
The governor has said he opposes single payer, and on Wednesday said that if the Health Committee's changes to his bill survived, he would veto the legislation.
The governor urged Appropriations members to replace provisions the Health committee removed.
Legislative leaders, among them House Majority Leader Ken Martinez, D-Grants, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, D-Roswell, have been trying to draft a modified bill the governor and legislators will accept.
Lawmakers with insurance, finance and health policy expertise were participating in those talks.
Richardson scolded legislators Wednesday for failing to move his health plan along with its major provisions intact, prompting Health committee chairwoman Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, to joke during Thursday's committee meeting that her "do-nothing committee" had moved 26 bills in two hours that day.
Freshman Republican Paul C. Bandy, an Aztec rancher, in an interview defended the committee's action and said the amendments improved Richardson's plan.
"There is a lot of cynicism on both sides, but the committee did things the way they should be done," Bandy said. "I commend the committee for its hard work."
Bandy said Richardson's version "basically enabled the governor to run the health care business in New Mexico without the Legislature."
Requiring everyone to have coverage "is really scary," he said, because there is no clear understanding of what the costs will be and what obligations the state will incur to help people obtain coverage.