Poverty and Public Health
3:21 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Lawmakers Powerless To Stop Behavioral Health Funding Transfer

Brent Ernest, deputy secretary of the NM Human Services Department, speaks to state legislators about the takeover of NM Medicaid-funded behavioral health facilities.
Brent Ernest, deputy secretary of the NM Human Services Department, speaks to state legislators about the takeover of NM Medicaid-funded behavioral health facilities.
Credit Deborah Martinez

Governor Susana Martinez’s administration is moving ahead - despite objections from state legislators - with plans to use more than 10-million dollars from the Human Services Department to pay Arizona contractors that are taking over New Mexico’s Medicaid-funded behavioral health operations.   The Legislative Finance Committee voted 15 to 1 on Wednesday to reject the budget transfer.

Committee members were attending an interim LFC hearing at Chama Middle School where they told of complaints they’ve heard from constituents about missed appointments and staff shake-ups.   But when Republican Senator Sue Wilson Beffort of Albuquerque asked HSD deputy Secretary Brent Ernest if there had indeed been disruptions of care, he repeated the Martinez Administration's line that the new providers are addressing those issues.

“Mr. Chairman and Senator Beffort, we’ve had various reports here and there about, you know, uh, problems in getting some some service potentially, but usually those are addressed," Ernest said.  "There’s been no denial of service, no inability to see somebody that we’re aware of.”

During two and a half hours of questioning, Ernest maintained that his agency will not change course in its replacement of a dozen CEOs of New Mexico BH providers by Arizona executives who will receive Medicaid funding through the state's Centennial Care program after their temporary contracts end in December.

Senator Carlos Cisneros of Questa recommended that the committee vote down the budget transfer request and he had a stern warning for the Martinez Administration when the full Legislature convenes next year:

“We may not be able to do anything legally now, but we certainly can come January,” Cisneros declared.

Lawmakers said they will be carefully scrutinizing HSD’s budget request for next year, and they expressed hope that investigations by the attorney general and the state auditor will be completed by then.

Several lawmakers said they're disappointed that the full audit of the 15 providers under investigation for alleged fraud has not been released.  They also warned audience members not to necessarily believe reports of alleged fraud by ousted executives that are based on leaked portions of the audit.  HSD has said it is not the source of those leaks. 

The finance committee already approved transferring part of the almost 18-million dollars that HSD wants for contracts with the Arizona companies.  Under state law, the department doesn’t have to have the legislature’s blessing, and the agency made the transfer without LFC's approval today.