State still wrestling with Medicaid decision

Sidonie Squier,
Cabinet Secretary
From the Santa Fe New Mexican - by Kate Nash - The administration of Gov. Susana Martinez, who has yet to decide whether New Mexico will expand Medicaid coverage to more residents under the federal Affordable Care Act, is seeking answers to a list of questions before making the decision. A letter sent by the state Human Services Department to federal health officials this week says the state has five key questions as it mulls whether to extend coverage to hundreds of thousands in the state. “The decision on whether or not the state will expand its Medicaid program is one that is significant and that we do not take lightly,” Human Services Secretary Sidonie Squier wrote. “We must thoroughly assess the fiscal implications of Medicaid expansion, and consider them in terms of our ability to maintain current services for those New Mexicans most in need.” For states that choose to expand Medicaid coverage to adults who live at up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, the U.S. government would pay the entire bill, starting in 2014. By 2020, the federal share would drop down to 90 percent. State officials estimate the number of newly eligible residents in New Mexico, where about one in five residents lacks health insurance coverage, is between 130,000 and 175,000. As the state sorts through its options, it has these questions of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius:
• Would New Mexico need to enroll everyone who is newly eligible at once, or could the state phase them in over time?
• For how long will the federal government guarantee the match it is expected to provide for states to help pay for the expansion of the program?
• If the feds provide a lower match, can states then adjust their eligibility requirements for the program?
• Could the state pay premiums for people who enroll in exchange programs instead of in the traditional Medicaid program and still receive federal matching funds? (Exchange programs are new health care plans that will be regulated by states and will be eligible for federal subsidies.)
• Could the state expand eligibility to a lesser level than 138 percent of the federal poverty level?
The department would like to hear back from federal officials in a “timely” manner, but the state hasn’t publicly set a deadline for deciding on Medicaid expansion. Kennicott said department employees have spent countless hours on the issue. “It’s a constant topic of conversation for us,” he said. “It takes up a good deal of discussion time on any given day.” The state for years has had among the highest rates of uninsured residents, although new census figures indicate that has eased a bit. About 22 percent of New Mexicans were without health insurance in 2010, a figure that dropped to 19.6 percent in 2011. The uninsured rate is a problem that both Republican and Democratic officials in the past have worked to reduce. Read more

Speech about making NM a “right to work” state draws protesters

Mark Mix, National Right to Work Committee president
From Capitol Report New Mexico - Should New Mexico become a “right to work” state? Yes, says Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Committee, who spoke to about 75 people at a luncheon in Albuquerque hosted by the Rio Grande Foundation on Tuesday (Sept. 12), saying that his group estimates New Mexico’s economy could add about 42,000 jobs if it passed legislation prohibiting closed union shops – that is, requiring owners to hire only union members should employees decide to establish a union in that workplace. But about a dozen union protesters outside the luncheon gathered in opposition to any such legislation, saying it will hurt work workers across the state. Among those attending the luncheon was Lt. Governor John Sanchez who told the audience he’ll work to pass right to work legislation in the upcoming Roundhouse session that begins in January. Back in 1979 and 1981, New Mexico came very close to become a “right to work” state. Legislation passed the state House of Representatives and Senate in contentious debate sessions but then-Gov. Bruce King vetoed the bills each time. There are currently 23 states in the US that are classified as “right to work.” Read more

Poll reopens debate on social promotion

From - ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Pick any third-grade classroom in the state of New Mexico and the odds are nearly half of the students are behind their grade level in reading. According to the results from recent statewide testing, only 52.4 percent of third graders are proficient or better in reading. The Albuquerque Public Schools district numbers are only slightly better with 52.6 percent testing proficient or better. It's a number that concerns state leaders like Public Education Secretary-Designate Hanna Skandera. "Reading is such a gateway," Skandera said. "We know if our students can't read by the end of the third grade they are four times more likely to drop out." One of Gov. Susana Martinez's big education initiatives is one that would make it practically mandatory for students who've fallen behind in reading by the end of the third grade to not be promoted to fourth grade. Currently, state law allows students to be held back a grade or retained, but only if the teacher and principal recommend it and the parent doesn't veto it, something they have the option of doing for one year. Union leaders have been critical of the governor's plan, and the Legislature has failed to pass it. "If you retain kids and don't give them the help they need then they are more likely to drop out later," said Ellen Bernstein with the Albuquerque Teachers Federation. "Retention should be the last option." An Albuquerque Journal poll asked New Mexico voters whether third graders who can't read at grade level should be held back. Seventy-five percent of those polled said yes, with 18 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. "I'm not surprised at all," Skandera said. "I think the people have spoken loud and clear, and I think they have consistently." Read more


The real Barack Obama presidency in a theatre near you

Commentary by Michael Swickard, Ph.D. - Who was tallest, shortest, spoke Chinese to his wife and which president put indoor plumbing in the White House? I love presidential history. Not just trivia, but the way presidents think. Therein has been a problem with Barack Obama because there was so much I did not know about him. And, not much of what he did as president made any sense, until now. Dinesh D’Souza has a new book out: Obama’s America: unmaking the American Dream. From the book D’Souza produced a documentary in theatres: 2016: Obama’s America. The movie is a visual image of the themes of the book. When I first heard of the project I had five related questions:
1) Does the research seem valid with appropriate questions relatively free of bias?
2) What are the facts about President Obama?
3) What rumors are untrue about the President?
4) How is President Obama like and unlike the other U.S. Presidents?
5) What intellectual compass does the president use for his decisions?
Some have eagerly embraced the book and movie while others would not touch either without a gun to their head. Several people told me angrily that this is just more Republican lies. Not surprisingly when I ask if they have they seen it, they say “No.” Others say they believe every word of it, though they also have not seen it. There are many Americans who already have made up their mind about Barack Obama. All they look for is confirmation of their beliefs about him. Luckily there are plenty of other people who just want to know the truth. This group is where D’Souza aimed his project because he felt that certain parts of the Obama story were missing and the media was not going to even admit these parts were missing. Read column


City leaders disappointed with Zozobra event

The gloom that arose from last week’s burning of Zozobra has caught the attention of some Santa Fe city councilors and the mayor.
Mayor David Coss announced at Wednesday night’s council meeting that he will ask the city manager to schedule a meeting with Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe representatives to address concerns about the event associated with the community’s annual Fiesta. “There should be less pageantry and focus more on family,” the mayor said. Councilor Rebecca Wurzburger said she has been attending the event for 25 years, and this year’s burning is the first time it left her saddened. “I think we have a lot of work to do with Kiwanis,” she said. “There are a litany of issues that need to be addressed. I don’t think we can say anymore, ‘It’s your event, you can do what you want to do. ” Wurzburger’s complaints included the length of the show as well as the loss of a family friendly feel to the event. This year’s Zozobra drew a variety of complaints from people across the city, many of whom were upset about a record-high ticket price of $20 at the gate, delays and changes to the program. More than 600 people have signed an online petition to the mayor that calls for a lower admission price and a return to tradition. Ray Valdez, the event’s producer and Kiwanis president-elect, told The New Mexican on Tuesday that he was aware of the complaints and was working on issues people had raised. Wurzburger said she appreciated his response but that more needs to be done..


NM has high organ donor rate

New Mexico has been recognized for its high organ donor registration rates. New Mexico Donor Services says the state has been awarded a silver medal by the Virginia-based nonprofit organization Donate Life America. The group's latest report card shows New Mexico had a donor designation share of 60 percent in 2011 with an estimated 945,000 people on the state's registry. Nationwide, nearly 43 percent of people 18 and older have registered to be organ, eye and tissue donors. Almost all New Mexicans who are registered have done so at the state's Motor Vehicle Division offices when getting driver's licenses or identification cards. MVD has been working with New Mexico Donor Services and the New Mexico Lions   Eye Bank since 1978 to provide opportunities to register as organ, tissue and eye donors.

Senator Keller puts up Vietnamese signs

Senator Tim Keller
Democratic state senator Tim Keller is putting up campaign signs in Vietnamese.
Although Keller said he put up signs in other languages before, including Spanish, this is the first election cycle he has done Vietnamese, which he called a reflection of his district's strong diversity.
"About eight percent of the population in this district [17] is Vietnamese, " Keller told Action 7 News.
It is true that the International District, which Keller represents in the state senate, is diverse with strong Hispanic and Native American influences as well.  
But Keller's opponent in November, Republican Shannon Robinson, said he thinks the signs are indicative of political trickery, and show Keller is trying to reinvent himself this campaign season.
The Asian American Association of New Mexico wouldn't comment much beyond saying it hopes the signs encourage more voting participation of people from every ethnicity.  
Look for about a dozen signs, including some in Spanish and also Native American languages, to be put up in the coming week. 

Wait for What?

Jim Spence (left)
The party conventions are over. The "Arab Spring" is turning into a nightmare at U.S. diplomatic missions anyplace where radical Islamists are allowed to flourish. Unfortunately, included on the list of places where radical Islam is getting stronger are countries like Egypt and Libya where the Obama administration was under the mistaken impression that good things were happening. Amazingly, America still gives taxpayer money (we borrow it) to Egypt.
Iran is growing like a cancer on the world and is no doubt responsible, at least for an assist, in the latest bloodthirsty killing of Americans.
Ayatollah Khomeni
In the meantime, evidence that America is getting weaker is coming to our attention every single day. The national debt burden surpassed $16 trillion dollars during the Democratic Convention. The Obama administration has borrowed more than $3 billion every single day since then.
Another disasterous jobs report was released in Washington this morning. It turns out the number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits rose more than projected last week. Jobless claims increased 15,000 in the week ended Sept. 8, the biggest gain in almost two months, to 382,000 according to the Labor Department.
Benjamin Netanyahu had it right earlier this week when asked about the Obama's policy of waiting on Iran's nuclear program. "Wait for what?" was Netanyahu's frustrated retort.
This simple question could also be posed to the American electorate as the Obama economic policies countinue to produce nothing but more of the same. Earlier this week a poll showed New Mexico as an Obama stronghold. We are surrounded by states who have long since had enough of the economic malaise under these policies. Of course the president and his minions in the Democratic Party are urging New Mexicans and the rest of America to "wait" a little longer. The want us to wait four years longer to be precise. The question for voters in less than two months seems pretty simple. The Israeli prime minister inadvertently asked the right question on the November election on an unrelated topic. Wait for what?


Santa Fe to focus on collecting outstanding debts

The city of Santa Fe could get more aggressive this year in collecting about $14 million in outstanding taxes, fees, fines and utility bills. City Finance Director Mel Morgan told city councilors Wednesday that a report compiled by his department and a deputy city attorney determined that the city has an overall collection rate of about 96 percent over the last four years, leaving 4 percent of potential revenue unrecovered. Morgan suggested the city consider hiring a collections agency on a contingency basis to go after the cash. Aside from $7 million in unpaid parking tickets that have been in the city’s system and are identified as mostly “uncollectable” due to the statute of limitations, the area with the most uncollected revenue is the Public Utilities Department, which reported unpaid water, sewer and trash bills of more than $3.8 million. The Municipal Court reported more than $1.2 million in court fines and fees that have not been paid.
The fire department, which does not pursue delinquent ambulance bills sent to people who don’t have insurance, reported about $565,000 in unpaid bills so far in 2012. The police department reported that more than $365,000 in speed SUV citations, or tickets from the city’s mobile speed-enforcement program, remain unpaid. Another big loss is at the city’s libraries, where about 11,000 items worth about $266,000 have not been returned. “If we don’t collect, it’s not fair to the people we are collecting from, and there is no incentive for people who aren’t paying to do anything to get on top of it,” said Councilor Chris Calvert, who suggested the city make changes to its in-house collections practices rather than turning to a third party. Councilors on the Finance Committee expect to consider the course of action in the coming months. In the meantime, collection activities continue. Assistant City Attorney Jamison Barkley said the Utilities Department, for example, is preparing to send fresh “demand letters” to all delinquent accounts over $1,000.


Whooping cough cases on the rise in NM

Whooping cough cases are spiking in New Mexico and across the nation - the worst outbreak in half a century. Doctors all it pertussis. Most of us call it whooping cough or "hoopin'" cough. Any way you say it, it's a pretty annoying long-term hack job of a cough for grownups and teenagers, but for babies it's much more serious - even fatal. One New Mexico baby has died from whooping cough so far this year, in San Miguel County. There have been 467 cases statewide in 2012, with four months left in the year. Last year, the state saw 277 cases. Nationwide, the caseload is about 25,000 right now. Disease doctors said the answer is immunization. "This is what we really want to drive home," said epidemiologist David Selvage of the New Mexico Department of Health. "Everyone needs to get vaccinated against pertussis, to protect themselves, sure, and to protect their families, - but more importantly to protect the infants in our communities." "There is a vaccine called T-dap," said Dr. Paul Ettestad of the Department of Health. "It's the usual tetanus vaccine that you're supposed to get every ten years, but it also contains a part of it that helps protect you from pertussis also." Whooping cough is highly contagious. It is bacterial, so antibiotics can be used to treat it. But it loves to linger. The Chinese call it the "hundred day cough." Remember, this really is not so much about you. It is about the babies you may come into contact with. That is why doctors recommend immunization and boosters.


Ticket price battle for ABQ Zoo

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry raised the admission prices at the Albuquerque BioPark Zoo in August, and now, city councilors want to lower the price. Mayor Berry's plan included a three-dollar increase for adult admission. Instead of $7, adults must now pay $10 to get in. Children and seniors are now paying $4.50 - it was previously a $3 admission fee. The mayor said the cost increases were for the near $20 million in deferred maintenance at the over 85-year-old zoo. The new plan would create a 24-member maintenance team, used specifically for BioPark construction, the BioPark including the Zoo, Aquarium, Botanic Garden, and Tingley Beach. But Tuesday, the mayor’s staff stated jobs would be lost if the new fees for the zoo did not come through. “We're going to be forced into a situation where we have to lay city employees off. Absolutely the worst possible scenario,” the city’s chief operating officer John Soladay said. Mayor Berry was asked to clarify Soladay’s comments on Wednesday. There was confusion that the new fees were about maintenance, and never had anything to do with downsizing the original staff. If we don't have the dollars to do it, then we have to start looking at reducing services and reducing employees, potentially. And certainly watch the zoo continue to deteriorate,” Mayor Berry said. But some city councilors are battling the mayor’s request. Councilor Ken Sanchez is proposing that adult admission go up only one dollar instead of three. Sanchez also mentioned the city’s ABQ The Plan budget fund of $9 million. Those funds are in place for the proposed Paseo/1-25 interchange plan that will be voted on in November. He said a portion of that fund to go to helping the nearly $20 million in maintenance needs at the zoo. “The money is just sitting there in this fund and some of that money could be utilized for the issue we're dealing with in the BioPark increases,” Sanchez said. But the mayor emphasized that the money for the Paseo plan could not be touched...

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Poverty rate up in NM

SANTA FE, N.M.  — The Census Bureau reports more New Mexicans are living in poverty and nearly a fifth of the state's population lacks health insurance.
The agency reported Wednesday the poverty rate in New Mexico was about 20 percent in 2010-2011 compared with almost 19 percent in 2009-2010.
An economist with New Mexico Voices for Children says the increase is because of New Mexico's slow recovery from the recession.
In its Current Population Survey, the federal agency provides two-year averages for evaluating changes within a state. New Mexico's poverty rate was 22 percent last year.
Nearly 20 percent of New Mexicans were uninsured in 2011.


UNM Cancer Center computer hacked

Authorities say hackers who attacked a University of New Mexico Cancer Center computer may have accessed personal information for up to 2,365 people, possibly including Social Security numbers. UNM Health Sciences Center officials say data accessed in the July 17 attack also may have included first and last names, addresses, telephone numbers and dates of birth. Officials say the data accessed varied for different patients. The university has contacted all affected patients in letters mailed Wednesday. Forensic analysis found that no electronic medical records or financial information was hacked.
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