The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Most vulnerable deserve care


July 3, 2019

Healthcare is a right. Raise your hand if you agree.

The reality is, America is divided on this question.

We’re not talking about emergency care here. I think most people with an ounce of compassion would agree that if someone’s life is in immediate danger, they should be treated before being asked how they’ll pay for their care. No, the debate is over the broader question of whether a person has a right to healthcare if they become sick or disabled, whether they can afford it or not.

The irony, of course, is that just about every prosperous nation on earth has answered this human rights question in the affirmative — except for the wealthiest nation of them all.

The U.S. stands virtually alone in its market-based healthcare delivery system.

I can see where they’re coming from. If a nation can afford to cover the costs of healthcare for all, why not provide it across-the-board, to everyone? That seems to be the humane thing to do.

It is particularly egregious to allow a breakdown in health care services for the most vulnerable people. Such a breakdown occurred in 2013 here in New Mexico, when then-Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration pulled the rug out from under thousands of New Mexicans, including children and teenagers, who are suffering from mental health problems.

It’s a tale of government mismanagement, for-profit capitalization and the victimization of New Mexicans already suffering from mental health issues — and now captured in a film by Ben Altenberg.

The documentary, “The Shake-Up,” reiterates what a lot of people who followed this story from beginning to end already knew: the Martinez administration instigated and grossly mishandled the whole affair, and hurt a lot of people along the way.

PBS recently aired the hour-long film. You can find it online by googling “the shake-up documentary” and clicking into the link.

In a nutshell, here’s what happened: In the summer of 2013, citing a failed audit that suggested billing fraud, the state Department of Human Services froze Medicaid reimbursements of 15 behavioral health providers (and later severed their contracts with the state) and asked the attorney general’s office to investigate. Then HSD brought in for-profit providers from Arizona to manage the state’s behavioral health services.

The AG’s investigation eventually cleared the providers of criminal wrongdoing and the press sued for public release of the audit and its findings, both of which essentially showed a lack of substance to the state’s allegations. By then it was too late, as most of the behavioral health providers had been shut down for lack of funds.

The film emphasizes the human consequences these politically and economically motivated injustices wrought. Nonprofit providers who were shut out by HSD’s actions were interviewed; a couple of them got emotional over their loss of services to children and teens in their care who struggle with psychiatric and psychological problems. One provider from Easterseals, one of the nonprofits whose contract was terminated, teared up when she said that, by their count, they’d lost seven patients to suicide and overdoses since the shake-up.

So, is healthcare a basic human right? We can argue about this until we’re red or blue in the face, but can’t we at least agree that, in this wealthiest of all nations, the most vulnerable among us, including and especially the children, should be properly cared for?

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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