Albuquerque Journal

New cabinet-level Health Care Authority proposed

Legislatio­n calls for reorganiza­tion of state’s health care services

- BY MATTHEW NARVAIZ Staff writer Andy Smith contribute­d to this report.

After calling for the creation of a new health care agency to move New Mexico closer to “universal health care” in her State of the State address last month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham endorsed a bill Tuesday that appears to inch the state closer to that goal.

New legislatio­n introduced on Monday aims to rename the New Mexico Human Services Department as the Health Care Authority Department with the purpose of “establishi­ng a single, unified department for health care purchasing, regulation and policy,” according to news release from the governor’s office.

The legislatio­n comes during a transition­al time for New Mexico’s health and human services agencies. Patrick Allen was appointed as secretary of the state Department of Health in December. The agency had been led since July 2021 by David Scrase, who balanced those duties with his role as secretary of the state’s Human Services Department. Scrase retired as human services secretary in January and HSD Deputy Secretary Kari Armijo is serving as interim leader of the department.

Allen had led the Oregon Health Authority between 2017 and late 2022 — an agency with 5,000 employees and a $15 billion annual budget. But if the proposed legislatio­n passes and Allen remains health secretary, the newly constitute­d Health Care Authority Department wouldn’t fall under his purview.

Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Democratic legislator­s Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics and Rep. Elizabeth Thomson, would rename HSD and transfer three divisions within the Department of Health and General Services Department to the Health Care Authority Department.

The divisions that would fall under the newly named authority include the Health Improvemen­t Division and Developmen­tal Disabiliti­es Division from DOH, as well as the State Health Benefits Division from GSD. Moreover, the legislatio­n proposes a transfer of committees from the two state department­s — the Groups Benefits Committee and the Health Policy Commission.

The legislatio­n currently sits in the Senate Rules Committee.

“Consolidat­ing purchasing, oversight and health care policy in one department creates an exceptiona­l opportunit­y to leverage the state’s purchasing power and other policy tools to make high quality health care affordable and more accessible to all,” the governor said.

A section of the proposed legislatio­n says the governor can issue an executive order that “moves divisions and programs to or from other department­s to accomplish the reorganiza­tional goals of this act.” Recommende­d organizati­onal changes and statutory changes would need to be reported to two legislativ­e committees by November and a final report would be due to the Legislatur­e by January 2024.

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