Special session looming

By Sarah Meyer: CNJ staff writer

Gov. Bill Richardson plans to call a special session to deal with health care — his top issue for the legislative session that ended Thursday.

“We will pass health care reform,” he said.

He did not specify a time for the special session.

Local lawmakers, like others around the state, are wary of the governor’s health care plan and its potential cost.

“The governor wanted a health care commission that he would have sole authority over,” said Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales.

“That’s difficult for most legislators to accept.”

Cost estimates for the program range from $500 million to $1 billion, Ingle said.

“I’ve never seen the lower estimates work with anything in government,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to go up and pass stuff we’re going to have to pay for three or four years down the road when we don’t even know what the estimates are. …

“We have to be awful careful about what we spend,” Ingle said, noting that “revenue estimates keep falling.”

Another concern is the complicated nature of a universal health care plan.

“It’s just such a complex issue,” said Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis. “Addressing it in a hasty manner is nonproductive. To do something just to say we’ve got a plan is irresponsible.”

“This is a huge, complex issue. Good ideas take three to four years,” said Rep. Brian Moore, R-Clayton. “Typically what happens is we take baby steps. These are big decisions.”

He said legislators generally spend the interim between sessions thilnking about such “big decisions,” and ideas are discussed until most can agree.

Moore also is concerned about the potential cost.

Crook said legislators need more time to consider the issues.

Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, has several questions in regard to health care:
• How much is it going to cost?

• Who’s going to get the bill?

• Why haven’t we enrolled the 200,000 people currently eligible for Medicaid?

Finally, Harden wonders what will happen after a new president is elected in November. Each of the top contenders is proposing some sort of national health care plan. “Where will that leave us?” he asked.

“Baloney,” the governor said in response to cost concerns. “What a poor excuse. … What is lacking is the political will.”

None of the other major, competing health care bills reached Richardson’s desk, either. They would have created an authority or commission to come up with a coverage plan within the next year or two.

A key sticking point in all the health care bills was how much power the governor — any governor — would have over the authority that ran the health care system.

Richardson insisted that any bill sent to him give him the power to appoint the authority’s executive director.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.