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New Mexico Outlaws Insurance Practice Called Step Therapy

A bill designed to rein in "step therapy," the insurance company practice of requiring patients to try a less expensive medication before using a costlier option, will become law in New Mexico.

By Steve Terrell

A bill designed to rein in "step therapy," the insurance company practice of requiring patients to try a less expensive medication before using a costlier option, will become law in New Mexico.

Gov. Susana Martinez on Wednesday signed Senate Bill 11, sponsored by Sens. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, and Gay Kernan, R-Hobbs, one of about two dozen bills passed during the 2018 legislative session to which she added her signature.

In addition to the legislation she signed, Martinez also made good on her promise to veto a bill that would have given pay raises to a number of elected state officials. Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, would have increased by 10 percent the pay of the next governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor, land commissioner, public regulation commissioners and lieutenant governor.

Martinez balked, referring in a news release to a budget surplus she said was made possible by "a relentless commitment to responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars. ... I will not waste a dime of it on doling out taxpayer dollars on pay raises for politicians."

The bipartisan step therapy bill passed without opposition in the Senate or House.

Insurance companies say step therapy, or "fail first treatment," is a necessary way to slow down spiraling drug costs and to curb the influence of drug manufacturers that market pharmaceuticals directly to patients and doctors.

But critics contend the practice can cause patients in some cases to suffer with inadequate medications and that it interferes with what doctors consider to be the best care for their patients. Step therapy puts money before medicine, critics say.

Referring to patients, Stefanics told The New Mexican last week, "To take them backwards might take them from walking to a wheelchair."

Martinez also signed SB 19, sponsored by Sen. Jim White, R-Albuquerque, which would overhaul New Mexico's guardianship and conservator system for the elderly and disabled. The legislation mandates open court records, more oversight and auditing.

White told The New Mexican in January that he was approached by constituents who raised concerns about guardianship laws even before recent high-profile criminal investigations disclosed widespread problems with two nonprofit guardianship companies. The owners and managers of the firms in both cases have been charged with stealing millions of dollars from clients, and the need for more protection of vulnerable people in guardianships has drawn national attention.

Another bill signed into law Wednesday was SB 46, sponsored by Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque. This sets up guidelines for the naming of public buildings, forbidding the naming of any state building for an official who has been convicted of a felony. It also prohibits naming buildings for officials while they are serving in office.

The governor signed House Bill 317, sponsored by House Republican Leader Nate Gentry, one of several pieces of legislation passed that deal with a huge brine well cavity below the edge of Carlsbad that was caused by the extraction of a salt formation. Experts expect an impending collapse, which could take with it a highway interchange that leads to two national parks. Gentry's bill gives more power to the Carlsbad Brine Well Remediation Authority to deal with the problem.

Martinez last month signed into a law a bill that redirects a portion of the vehicle excise tax to generate $30 million over three years to address the brine well problem near Carlsbad.

Martinez also signed HB 38, sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, which sets out guidelines at the local level for certain wireless communication systems. Backers argued it will allow wireless providers to more easily expand service and improve mobile phone service. But a few lawmakers worried it would strip municipal and county governments of some authority in restricting cell towers.

Also signed into law were several noncontroversial bills dealing with the military and veterans.

One was HB 67, known as the Stolen Valor Act. It prohibits making false claims of military service for personal gain such as employment or appointment to public office. It was sponsored by Rep. Bob Wooley, R-Roswell, who is a Vietnam veteran.

Other military bills included SB 97, sponsored by Bill Burt, R-Alamogordo, which is designed to expedite the process of getting New Mexico teaching licenses for members of the military and their spouses who are from out of state. "This will both allow military families to settle into the community quickly and help schools fill vacancies with quality, licensed teachers," said a statement from the governor.

And SB 16, sponsored by Sen. Carlos Cisneros, D-Questa, will increase the rank required to be appointed as adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard from major to at least colonel. Martinez's office says this will give the adjutant general more federal recognition and increase the credibility of the guard.

(c)2018 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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