Legislative Session Brings Big Wins for Health Care Affordability

Tougher Tobacco Products Regulation Will Also Improve State’s Health Outcomes

Rep. Debbie Armstrong, Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, said after the 2020 Legislative Session ended at noon on Thursday that key legislation passed this year will make health care more affordable for New Mexicans, while new rules will reduce the use of tobacco products by minors.

“This budget session has been incredibly productive for addressing health care affordability,” Armstrong said. “That means that the budgets of everyday New Mexicans won’t be stretched as thin in the coming years—and fewer families will have to choose between putting food on the table or going to the doctor.”

Among the health care affordability legislation that passed through the committee Armstrong chairs and ultimately passed the Legislature are:

  • The Wholesale Drug Importation Act, SB 1: Co-sponsored by Senate President Mary Kay Papen and Armstrong, SB 1 allows New Mexico to apply to participate in a new federal program that allows states to import lower-cost prescription drugs from Canada. The imported medications—which must meet FDA standards and will not include opioids or biologics--would be distributed to pharmacies and available to patients with a prescription at a price lower than what they pay now.
  • Prescription Drug Cost Sharing, HB 292: This much-needed bill co-sponsored by Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto and Rep. Micaela Lara Cadena sets caps on the cost-sharing amounts that patients can be charged by insurance companies for insulin. It also ensure patients with diabetes have access to basic supplies, including testing strips and syringes. Finally, HB 292 requires the state to look at other medications—including inhalers and opioid reversal agents—to see if a cost-sharing cap might be beneficial to patients needing those medications too.
  • Health Insurance Exchange Changes, HB 100: Co-sponsored by Armstrong and Cadena, this bill ensures that New Mexicans will be able to continue purchasing affordable health care coverage through the state’s exchange, beWellNM, regardless of any federal action to further dismantle the Affordable Care Act. By transitioning the exchange to a fully state-run entity the exchange will not be impacted by Washington politics. HB 100 further allows the exchange’s board members to set minimum standards for the plans offered.
  • Pharmacist Parity, HB 42: Sponsored by Armstrong, this bill help New Mexico families easily access affordable clinical services, like flu shots, at their local pharmacy by finally ensuring that pharmacists are fairly reimbursed for this work.

While cost continues to top New Mexicans’ concerns about health care, the use of tobacco products—particularly by kids and teens—has had alarming health consequences in the state. SB 131, The Tobacco Products Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Linda Lopez and Rep. Liz Thomson, helps to keep tobacco products out of the hands of anyone under 21. It requires child-resistant packaging for certain nicotine products and prohibits marketing tobacco products to kids. Retailers face fines and possible loss of their state license for violating law.

Additionally, in the budget approved by the Legislature early Thursday morning, there is $400,000 to provide support services for cancer survivors. (Page 100.)

Despite important legislative wins for health care, Armstrong said that work needed to continue in the interim on the Health Care Affordability Fund Act, which she sponsored with Papen and Rep. Javier Martinez and Thomson. HB 278 would have allowed the state to start collecting from insurance companies a portion of a fee that the federal government had been collecting but is now phasing out. Collecting the fee would have meant a revenue stream of up to $125 million per year to pay for innovative cost-saving programs that would reduce co-pays, cost-sharing and deductibles. While the bill passed the House, time ran out before it could make it through the Senate. Armstrong said that the Legislative Health and Human Services Committee will revisit the Affordability Fund over the next year and will hopefully reintroduce and pass a version of the bill in 2021.

“We crammed a lot into 30 days,” said Armstrong, who also became a first-time grandmother over the course of the short session. “We have passed smart policies that will help New Mexicans stay healthy. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the coming months to develop more policies that will ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care. In New Mexico, we understand that health is a basic human right.”

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About Rep. Armstrong: Debbie, Chair of the House Health and Human Services Committee, is a long-time health care advocate serving her second term in the New Mexico House of Representatives. Having started her career as a physical therapist, she has worked extensively as a health care administrator, working 10 years with Presbyterian Medical Services in Santa Fe. Prior to serving as Secretary of New Mexico’s Aging and Long-Terms Services Department, she oversaw the department’s Consumer and Elder Rights Division. Debbie is the mother of three adult children. She lives in Albuquerque’s North Valley.  Follow her on Twitter @NMRepArmstrong and on Facebook, and sign up for email and text updates.

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Paid for by Debbie Armstrong for New Mexico, Jill Riester, Treasurer

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