Health Action New Mexico worries about the amount of money that could flood into state races and potentially influence the choice of an insurance regulator if the reform proposal is enacted.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez isn’t the only one who thinks elements of Public Regulation Commission reform deserve more consideration than can be undertaken in a 30-day session.
The proposal to remove insurance regulation from the PRC (HJR 17) is opposed by Health Action New Mexico, whose members are fearful that changes in the structure of insurance oversight now may threaten the implementation of federal health-care reform here.
“The Think New Mexico study proposal was only launched a couple of months ago. We looked at it with our board, we voiced our concerns and they made some changes, but we still can’t support it,” said Barbara Webber, executive director of Health Action New Mexico.
“We certainly respect our colleagues at Think New Mexico and we stand for transparency, but we think we should slow down the process,” Weber said.
Since we published our story earlier this week quoting Sanchez as saying he thought PRC reform needed more time than a 30-day session could offer, the majority leader has been pounded by media outlets (here, here, here and by NMPolitics.net’s Heath Haussamen here), who have criticized him for holding up reform efforts.
In response, Sanchez’s office today sent out a media alert from the Senate Democratic caucus saying, “The bills on PRC reform are all in a similar place as all bills that have been referred from the House. HJRs 11,16, and 17 will all be heard in the committee at the call of the chair, and will be brought to the floor if and when they are passed through the appropriate committees. We need to be deliberative and thoughtful anytime changes are made to the New Mexico Constitution, and that will be the case with PRC reform.”
Sanchez, who controls the agenda on the floor, appeared to be the only lawmaker voicing any opposition to the measures, which passed unanimously through the House.
Concerned about impact on health-care reform
Webber said although her organization opposes the measure she was not able to attend any of the committee hearings on it and had not spoken directly to Sanchez about her concerns.
“When you have a regulator that only regulates one industry, that is an industry that weilds an enormous amount of power,” Webber said. “For example, Health Care Services Corporation, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s parent company, is the fourth-largest insurance company in the country. We’re talking about large interests in a small state.”
Under the proposal, the superintendent of insurance would be appointed by the governor (from a pool of candidates submitted by a Senate nominating committee) and then confirmed by the Senate. But in light of the Citizens United decision, Webber said her group is anxious about the amount of money that could flood into state races and potentially influence the choice of an insurance regulator.
“He will be chosen by elected officials and a Senate in a time when issues have become very partisan, and we just don’t want the implementation of health-care reform to be impacted by that,” Webber said.
Fear of a Republican governor is not a factor in her group’s position, Weber indicated.
“We had the same problems under (former Gov. Bill) Richardson. Everyone wants the power. That’s why it’s so important,” Weber said.
Think NM: Political interference already a problem
But proponents of the measure say they’ve tried to keep political interference to a minimum. The legislation calls for the insurance superintendent to have a term that’s staggered with the governor’s.
If the proposal passes the Legislature this session and is approved by voters this November, it would be up to state lawmakers to organize a nominating committee to offer candidates for Gov. Susana Martinez to choose from in 2013. The new superintendent would take office on July 1, 2013 and would likely serve in an acting capacity until a Senate confirmation hearing that would most likely be held during the 30-day session in 2014.
While heath-care reform advocates are mostly comfortable with the way things are structured now, the insurance office has already been subjected to an unacceptable level of political interference, according to Fred Nathan of Think New Mexico.
“At any point under the PRC we could have another revolving door of superintendents,” as we’ve seen over the past couple of years, Nathan said.
Having the Legislature and governor appoint a superintendent would guarantee both stability and accoutability, he said.