How Health Care Reform Will Help New Mexico’s Children

It’s no secret that New Mexico has some of the highest rates of poverty and uninsured children in the United States.

So it makes sense for New Mexicans to know just how federal health care reform – aka The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – enacted at the state level can improve the lives of children – particularly low-income children who would not otherwise receive health care.

Dr. Lance Chilton has been a pediatrician in New Mexico for 34 years, treating children from all social groups and strata. He is a former Indian Health Service doctor who also worked for years at Lovelace. A former president of the New Mexico Pediatric Society, Dr. Chilton now works for the Young Children’s Health Center at the University of New Mexico.

Dr. Chilton knows what New Mexico’s children need – and he’s excited about the changes health care reform will bring for them.

Here’s what Dr. Chilton considers some of the high points regarding health care reform and what it will do for New Mexico’s children:

  • Under the new health care provisions, insurance companies will be barred from refusing to cover children who suffer from pre-existing health conditions. In New Mexico, that means 36,400 children who would not be eligible for health insurance will now be eligible for coverage. “It is very important that children not be denied health care because of a pre-existing condition,” said Dr. Chilton. His words are borne out by a New Families USA report released today that shows that thousands of New Mexicans of all ages, racial groups and income levels are affected by the denial of coverage issue.
  • The new health care reform preserves the Early, Periodic, Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) Program, which is the child health component of Medicaid.  The program provides early testing and intervention for low -income children for a wide range of developmental problems as well as for disease and infection in the areas of physical, mental, dental and visual health.
    So far, the EPSDT Program has been instrumental in many New Mexico children’s lives and it is important that it continue, said Dr. Chilton.
  • Health care reform also provides funding for an increased number of physicians in New Mexico.  Millions of dollars of state-based resources included in the health care package are available for qualifying New Mexico facilities and organizations that specialize in treating children, including school and community-based health care centers. That’s important, because, as Dr. Chilton notes, New Mexico does not have enough pediatricians, especially in isolated areas of the state.
    “New Mexico does not have enough primary care doctors of any kind – internists, pediatricians or family practice doctors,” Dr. Chilton said.

Stay tuned to this spot, as Clearly New Mexico has and will continue to cover the implementation of health care reform as it plays out in New Mexico.

Healthcare Reforms Begin: Holding Insurance Companies Accountable

One after another, shortly after a diagnosis of breast cancer, each of the women learned that her health insurance had been canceled… The women all paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, none had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake.

So began a recent story by Reuters about one of the health insurance industry’s giants, Wellpoint.

And no, the canceled polices were not a mistake.

Little did these women diagnosed with breast cancer know, but Wellpoint had deliberately targeted them, through the use of a “computer algorithm”, for automatic placement on a list to be aggressively “investigated.” And the purpose of the investigation was to find any excuse to terminate their coverage – just at the time they needed it most. Revoking policies is this way is called “rescission.”

(It should be noted that Wellpoint denies the charges in the Reuters story.)

An abusive practice? It would seem so. Nevertheless, it has basically been standard operating procedure for the industry.

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News About Kirtland Jet Fuel Leak Is Spreading

A few significant things have happened since we last wrote about the decades-old Kirtland Air Force jet fuel leak that’s threatening to contaminate a major municipal water well in the city of Albuquerque that serves neighborhoods near the base and some parts of Ridgecrest.

New Mexico Environment Department officials estimate the underground spill of toxic jet fuel could be as much as 8 million gallons. Jet fuel is a known human carcinogen.

On May 10, the state Environment Department denied the Air Force’s request for 45 extra days to submit a report detailing its plans for dealing with the spill.

As John Fleck of the Albuquerque Journal reported, the state will require the Air Force to submit a report on July 7 showing how far the contamination has spread. Two other reports will be due on June 22.

“Urgent action needs to be taken to address this threat to Albuquerque’s drinking water supply,” James Bearzi of the New Mexico Environment Department wrote in response to the Air Force request for a 45-day extension. The state department has complained about the Air Force’s pattern of frequently missed deadlines in the past.

On May 20, the Air Force held a meeting with residents of the area near the spill to discuss its plans for cleaning up the spill and controlling its spread. Air Force commander Col. Rob Maness told KOAT-TV that the Air Force promises to do more to stop the spread of fuel to municipal wells. The Air Force has already spent $10 million on the leak.

And on May 12, New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman voiced his support for holding the Air Force responsible for cleaning up the spill and expressed concern about the possibility of it contaminating Albuquerque’s underground water resources.

“Clearly the Air Force is responsible for cleaning up that spill, and I will support whatever is determined to be the right level of resources to get that done,” Bingaman told a New Mexico reporter in an interview last week. The interview can be found on Bingaman’s Senate web site.

The senior senator from New Mexico is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He took the question about the Kirtland spill amidst a number of questions from New Mexico reporters about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Kirtland jet fuel spill is now firmly on the radar screen of all the entities needed to make a real difference. Let’s hope all the increased media attention and public concern inspires the state to show even more muscle in forcing the Air Force to take responsibility for the leak and keep it from reaching our drinking water.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Why It Matters

whites only By Tracy Dingmann

It was exactly 50 years ago – a lifetime for some – that four black college students sat at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C and asked to be served.

At the time, in February of 1960, Woolworth’s and many other privately-owned businesses in the South refused to serve blacks or required them to use separate facilities than those used by whites.

Segregation in the South wasn’t just practiced privately – it was part of a system called Jim Crow that involved every public institution in the South. Jim Crow segregation kept blacks from owning land, gaining fair employment and earning a fair wage, receiving a fair trial, having access to a quality education, voting, holding any political office or having any political power whatsoever.

The protest by students at North Carolina A&T marked one of the first skirmishes of the Civil Rights Movement – both the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Little Rock school integration struggle preceded it.

But the lunch counter protests, organized by leaders of what later became the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, soon spread across the South, eventually involving 70,000 students. At that time, just about every little Southern town had a Woolworth counter that wouldn’t serve blacks – so the drugstore chain was a logical one for protesters to target in their quest to force businesses to accommodate all people, without regard to race.

There were many other battles to come – Selma, Birmingham, Jackson, Memphis – in which black and white people marched together in mass protests to demand civil rights for all, in both private and public accommodations. Thousands of protesters were threatened or jailed, and dozens of them were killed.

In the end, nothing but mass movements, murders and federal legislation was able to utterly destroy the Southern way of life under Jim Crow and dislodge an entrenched system of racism that permeated every level of society.

The Civil Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, was designed to address and dismantle each level of institutional racism.

Each of its ten titles addresses a discrete area:

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Pajarito Water Station Opens Saturday

It took years of organizing and hard work, but on Saturday, about 400 families living on Pajarito Mesa west of Albuquerque will finally get access to clean drinking water.

For about 20 years, the residents of the unincorporated area have had to buy water and haul it to their homes, from a distance of 10 to 18 miles away.

Here’s a New York Times story from last month on the rugged conditions at Pajarito Mesa – and the community’s quest for clean, accessible drinking water.

But no more – on Saturday, the community will open its own water filling station.

The official opening ceremony will happen from 12 to 4 p.m., when there will be a celebration of food and music with the people and groups who helped the Pajarito community get the well, including the Pajarito Mesa Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association and the SouthWest Organizing Project.

Here’s a map to the area, if you’d like to attend:

pajarito mesa

Map to Pajarito Mesa Water Station

Some New Mexicans’ Reaction To Arizona Boycott Is A Shame

By Tracy Dingmann

It’s been a little over three weeks now since Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed the controversial measure SB 1070 into law in Arizona. Much has happened since, including an outcry of protest from those who see the law as a civil and human rights outrage and an outpouring of support for the measure from those who say Arizona was forced to act after waiting in vain for federal immigration reform.

Many of those who support the Arizona immigration law see it in black and white terms that go something like this:

  • Undocumented immigrants are criminals, merely by virtue of being in the U.S. illegally – so whatever law is aimed at prosecuting them, by any means, is right and virtuous
  • The federal government has failed to provide enough protection at the border from illegal immigrants, so good for Arizona for taking matters into its own hands. So what if the courts say states don’t have the right to make laws in this area
  • I don’t care if police want to stop and question me – if I’m not breaking the law, what’s the big deal? The only people who should be worried about this law are the people who are here illegally
  • If you don’t like this law, then you don’t love America…and maybe you should just leave

Those who oppose the law do so on many grounds, including those motivated by concern that the new law will:

  • Cause police to unfairly target all people who happen to have brown skin and speak Spanish, including U.S. citizens
  • Violate the Constitution by giving a state powers that only the federal government can have
  • Engender fear that people in immigrant communities, whether legal or illegal, will be afraid to report crimes or otherwise approach police
  • Encourage human rights violations by criminalizing an entire class of people

Protests that the law is a thinly-disguised tool for racial harassment of Hispanics in Arizona gained resonance with Arizona’s subsequent passage of a second law, to ban the teaching of ethnic studies in elementary and secondary school; as well as a directive from the schools to bar any teacher with a heavy accent from teaching English in schools (read “Arizona Doubles Down on Hispanic Residents” by syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr. in the Albuquerque Journal today…subscription only.)

So far, most of the angst has been centered on Arizona.

But one thing that’s happened right here in New Mexico has made me sad.

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Rep. Antonio Maestas’ Seven-Point Plan For A New Mexico Boycott of Arizona (UPDATE)

Rep. Maestas

Rep. Antonio "Moe" Maestas

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque was already outraged about the state of Arizona’s decision to pass a law requiring state and local law enforcement officers to ask for identification from people they believe are in the country illegally.

Maestas, an Albuquerque attorney, and many others believe the law gives police the right to stop and harass anyone they choose, based only on the color of their skin.

But news that Arizona has now banned ethnic studies in public schools as well has convinced Maestas that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and her supporters are finally showing their true colors.

“They’re all really showing their hand as to what the real issue is,” said the two-term Democratic representative from the city’s West Side.

“It’s not about illegal immigrants – it’s about Mexicans, whether they are legal or illegal. It’s about people from Mexico who are brown and speak with an accent.”

How New Mexico Is Different Than Arizona

Maestas said he believes the law passed in Arizona because so many Arizonans are “culturally disconnected “from Arizona’s demographics. Arizona’s population includes a high number of Anglos who have moved there from somewhere else, have never encountered Hispanics and feel innately uncomfortable around them, he said.

“They have formed their own demographic reality,” Maestas said.

In contrast, New Mexico’s history includes the long and established presence of Hispanics who own land and vote – which translates into political power for Hispanics in New Mexico.

“Nuevo Mexicanos are a different breed – They own land and they vote, unlike a lot of Latinos elsewhere in the country,” Maestas said.

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, New Mexico’s legislature is 44 percent Hispanic, a contrast to 16 percent in Arizona. New Mexico has the highest percentage of Hispanics of any state — 45 percent, compared with 30 percent in Arizona.

Hispanics United Behind Opposition To Law

Historically, immigration has been a wedge issue for Hispanics, many of whom are socially conservative and favor strong government action to limit illegal immigration.

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Learn More About How Health Care Reform Affects You

health care You’ve heard about health care reform – but do you have any clue what kind of difference it could make in your life?

A group that knows all about the health care bill and how it affects New Mexico wants to help New Mexicans find out how to make the most of the benefits and services available now.

Health Action New Mexico, a local nonprofit organization, has been poring over the federal health care legislation and will be available all summer to talk about the ways it will be enacted in New Mexico.

Throughout the summer, HANM is committed to traveling throughout New Mexico to meet with groups of folks who are most likely to be affected, including seniors, parents, children, college students, people with chronic health conditions, community health care centers, school-based health clinic – in other words, just about everyone.

HANM will also be publicizing a series of informational articles in various local media outlets will that explain much more about how reform can benefit New Mexicans.

“A lot of services and money are available, but you have to know what applies to you and know what you have to do it to get it,” said Dick Mason, who chairs HANM’s legislative committee and the Action Committee of the League of Women Voters New Mexico.

“We want to marshal consumer groups and make sure they participate in the process and know how to do it. We want to make sure the voice of the consumer is heard throughout the whole process.”

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Native Elder “Grandma Agnes” Gets Honorary Doctorate at 96

Mrs. Agnes Dill (Isleta/Laguna)

By Anthony Fleg of the Native Health Initiative

At the University of New Mexico’ spring commencement this Saturday, many graduates will grasp their degree with a sigh of relief, thinking of how long a road it has been.

None of them quite knows the road like Mrs. Agnes Dill, however.

Mrs. Dill (Isleta/Laguna), born in 1913, will be receiving an honorary doctorate degree at UNM’s graduation for her tireless dedication to the issues around the access to education for American Indian women.

As a founding member for multiple organizations, including the North American Indian Women’s Association, Mrs. Dill has led a life of service and dedication to empowering women.

Whereas UNM currently has close to 1,500 American Indian students, Mrs. Dill attended UNM at a time when only 14 were enrolled.

“And we did not have scholarships in those days, so the Native students lived down at the Albuquerque Indian School (12th and Menaul) because we could not afford to stay on campus with the other students,” she remembers.

It is fitting that Mrs. Dill, a lifelong educator herself, will receive this honor in the name of the University she once attended, one month shy of her 97th birthday.

When asked how she feels about the award, Mrs. Dill closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“I really never expected something like this to happen, but I am proud of all of the work we have been able to do over the years to better the conditions in our Indian communities.”

Mrs. Dill will be escorted during the graduation ceremony by Dr. Melvina McCabe (Navajo), a family doctor at UNM who coordinates the Geriatric Center’s Council of Elders that Agnes has served on for the past years.

The Native Health Initiative nominated Mrs. Dill for the honorary degree after seeing her continued work to serve; NHI has asked Mrs. Dill and her sisters to speak to a variety of health professions students to give a perspective on American Indian health and culture.

“We felt that this was a moment where Grandma Agnes, a woman who represents the Indigenous wisdom and knowledge that is too often unrecognized by Universities, needed to be honored,” says NHI Coordinator Shannon Fleg (Navajo).

Shannon had quite a task to compile a resume spanning 80 years of advocacy, as Mrs. Dill was not a person to keep track of her accomplishments.

Saturday’s ceremony has already had ripple effects, Shannon says.

“Since we have begun to spread the news about Mrs. Agnes, leaders and elders in our local Indigenous communities are saying to us – wait until next year, because we have someone to nominate as well!”

For more information on the Native Health Initiative, visit www.lovingservice.us or contact Shannon Fleg at shannon@lovingservice.us.

NM Biz Weekly: Immigrant law is “unwelcome blow” to AZ tourism industry, plus Ozzie Guillen says, “Hell no, I won’t go!”

Apparently bigotry is bad for business.

This just in from the New Mexico Business Weekly:

The number of groups canceling meetings in Arizona grows daily, as do the boycotts and calls for boycotts in protest of a new immigration law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer…

For the state’s tourism industry, already limping along in the recession it’s an unwelcome blow. The Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association said the tally so far is 23 canceled meetings with an economic impact of $6 million to $10 million in lost business.

The story quotes Santa Fe Mayor David Coss, who has introduced a resolution in coordination with the local business community inviting groups to come to his city:

“One of the things we’re going to be doing in Santa Fe is [speaking] about the fact that Santa Fe is a sanctuary city and we pride ourselves on being so,” said Keith Toler, executive director of the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau. “That’s very different from what they do in Arizona.”

The Business Weekly reports that, due to Arizona’s rejection of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the early ‘90s, the state lost 170 conventions and 300 million tourist dollars.

Arizona’s booming professional sports industry looks to be impacted too.

The Phoenix Suns NBA team wore “Los Suns” jerseys at Wednesday night’s playoff game in protest of their home state’s new law.

The World Boxing Council is looking to limit fights in Arizona.

Further, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) demanded that the law be repealed and warned players traveling to Phoenix to play Arizona Diamondbacks that they “could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal.”

More than one out of four major league players are foreign born and most them are from Latin America.

A boycott of next year’s major league All Star Game in Phoenix is picking up steam.

Chicago White Sox skipper Ozzie Guillen said he wouldn’t attend the mid-summer classic in Phoenix. Said Guillen, “I’m not going. I have to support my people, people I believe in. If those people were bad people, hell no I wouldn’t support them; but they’re good people.”

Baltimore shortstop Cesar Izturis of Venezuela spoke out, too:

“It’s a bad thing. Now they’re going to go after everybody, not just the people behind the wall. Now they’re going to come out on the street. What if you’re walking on the street with your family and kids? They’re going to go after you.”

Major League Baseball is a huge tourist draw for Arizona, far beyond the single franchise in Phoenix. The state is home to the Cactus League – the spring training base for half of the 30 major league teams.

Postscript: Speaking of spring training, most everyone knows that Jackie Robinson broke major league baseball’s color barrier in 1947.  But did you know that African-American ballplayers still had to endure racial segregation during spring training in Florida as late as 1965?  Hall of Famers like Bob Gibson, Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente (and Minnie Minoso who should be in the HOF), proud champions treated like less than citizens — make that less than human beings.  St. Louis Cardinals’ great Bill White, who later became President of the National League, couldn’t stay in the same hotel or eat at the same dining room with Stan Musial.

This was such a shameful chapter in our history. We must never forget.