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Health Proposal Attracts Scrutiny: Senator Would Like Answers on How Governor Intends To Pay For Expanded Coverage

Powerful state senator inquiries the assumptions behind Gov. Bill Richardson's most recent health care proposals and wants someone to inform him what they will cost taxpayers.

In an Oct. 23, letter to Democratic House and Senate leaders, Legislative Finance Committee Chairman John Arthur Smith requested money to hire a health finance and economics expert who would provide legislators with an "independent high level analysis of universal health care proposals currently being discussed."

Smith, a Democratic state senator from Deming, wrote, "There is a lack of information about how much of the costs for any of the proposals will be from the state general fund." He said Legislative Finance Committee staff has several concerns about the means studies of health coverage options were performed.

The Legislative Finance Committee is composed of senators and representatives. It creates a proposed state budget between legislative sessions.

A spokesperson for the state Human Services Department, the lead agency in the executive branch for health finance policy, said the firm that did the studies for the Health Coverage for New Mexicans Committee, Mathematica Policy Research Inc., is an independent economic policy research group.

The Health Coverage Committee was appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders in 2006 to examine three approaches to attaining universal health coverage.

Betina Gonazles McCracken said, "The Health Coverage Committee, with the Legislative Council Service, chose Mathematica through an independent bidding process. I don't know how much more independent that could be."

The Legislative Council Service is an agency that assists legislators draft and assesses legislation.

McCracken added that the Human Services Department and Mathematica are working with Legislative Finance Committee staff to make out costs and sources of funds for Richardson's health coverage proposals.

Supporters of a state-run and state-financed single-payer health care system also uttered concerns about Richardson's proposals Friday.

A statement from the Health Security Campaign said Mathematica's studies show a single payer system costs a smaller amount than other approaches the firm appraised.

The group said, "We are deeply concerned that the governor is ignoring the results of the Mathematica study and is intending to put us on the path of using more and more taxpayer dollars to subsidize a failing private insurance system."

Richardson, who officially unveiled his plan, has stated that his proposal makes use of ideas from the three approaches Mathematica studied and puts in further ideas. Mathematica did not assess Richardsonís proposal for the Health Coverage Committee.

Smith said Legislative Finance Committee staffs were concerned:

That Mathematica undervalues the cost of providing health coverage to New Mexico's 400,000 uninsured residents.

That the studies take for granted unrealistic reductions in health insurance premiums will result from universal coverage efforts.

That the studies did not do sufficient analysis by, for instance, evaluating what would take place if residents do not take insurance coverage in the numbers expected.



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