Congressional Delegation Meets with HHS Secretary to Discuss NM Behavioral Health Disruptions

Yesterday, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján and Michelle Lujan Grisham with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell to discuss their concerns about the continuing disruptions of behavioral health services in New Mexico.

In 2013, the New Mexico Human Services Department suspended Medicaid payments to 15 nonprofit behavioral health providers claiming “credible allegations of fraud.” This led to the closure and eventual replacement of 12 behavioral health providers with Arizona-based providers. Two of these replacement providers are now pulling out of the state, leaving gaps in access for critical behavioral health services under Medicaid for many New Mexicans with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Udall, Heinrich, Luján and Lujan Grisham have previously pressed Burwell to increase oversight to assure transparency and predictability for quality services, particularly for vulnerable Medicaid participants.

Members of the New Mexico delegation released the following statements after meeting with Burwell:

“New Mexico’s behavioral health services are in crisis, devastating patients across the state, including many children,” Udall said. “While Medicaid is a state program and it will take strong state leadership to get these services back on track, I’m glad Secretary Burwell committed to using every tool in her toolbox to help New Mexico restore our behavioral health system. Thousands of New Mexicans depend on these services, including some with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders. This disruption threatens their livelihoods and families, and we need a long-term, transparent solution.”

“Much of New Mexico’s behavioral health system was turned upside down overnight when the state suspended Medicaid payments to providers,” Heinrich said. “Our meeting with Secretary Burwell was productive and an important opportunity to reiterate our concerns about problems with continuity of care and continued service disruptions. Moving forward, the Department of Health and Human Services has committed to supporting efforts to rebuild the state’s behavioral health safety net and to ensuring that those in need get the quality care they deserve.”

“Our meeting was an important opportunity to make clear to Secretary Burwell that New Mexicans continue to be impacted by the upheaval in the state’s behavioral health system,” Luján said. “The voices of constituents in our communities tell a story of patients slipping through the cracks and unacceptable disruptions and gaps in care, while providers are pulling out of New Mexico. From the beginning, the process of replacing New Mexico providers was not transparent and entities that were brought in have now left, leaving New Mexicans without service. This process is clearly flawed and needs to be fixed. I am encouraged by our conversation with the Secretary and hope that we can work together to ensure that some of New Mexico’s most vulnerable citizens have access to the care that they desperately need.”

“Members of the New Mexico delegation finally got the opportunity to share their frustration with the deterioration of New Mexico’s behavioral health system with the Secretary of Health and Human Services,” Lujan Grisham said. “We made it very clear to the Secretary that we have been disappointed with the lack of oversight by an agency that has a responsibility to ensure credible access to services through a federal health program. We also made it clear that we expect the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take a more active role in working with providers and holding the state accountable to get services to vulnerable New Mexicans.”