An open letter to Sens. O’Neill and Ortiz y Pino

Trip Jennings, NMID's executive director, will author the article examining the health exchange debate.

Trip Jennings, NMID's executive director, will author the article examining the health exchange debate.

Dear Senators Bill O’Neill and Jerry Ortiz y Pino:

We at New Mexico In Depth were a bit confused – befuddled might be a better word – at your press release yesterday. It bears the title “Media Scrutiny Finally Gives Behavioral Health Debacle the Investigation Warranted” and begins with this line:

“Democrat lawmakers say it’s about time that New Mexico’s behavioral health debacle has finally gotten the media attention it deserves.”

Trip Jennings, NMID's executive director, will author the article examining the health exchange debate.

Trip Jennings

The media attention it deserves? Really?

We think maybe you’re a little behind on your reading. Take a look at, or the Santa Fe New Mexican, or the Las Cruces Sun-News. Maybe check out the audio archives on KUNM, Albuquerque’s NPR affiliate. We know you’re busy, but, honestly, a few Internet searches would have produced a cornucopia of examples of media scrutiny.

So in the spirit of helpfulness, we at NMID thought we’d point out a few highlights so as to disabuse you of this notion that the media has buried its collective head in the New Mexico desert.

Before I do, however, I want to make sure you know about New Mexico In Depth’s coverage. Our first story ran June 27, 2013 and we’ve done so many stories since that we’ve created a landing page for the behavioral health issue on our website. It’s called The Medicaid Freeze and it has a timeline we created with the help of our media partners. You should go read it.

The Medicaid Freeze spans dozens of stories, blogs and posts, including some that have run on the front page of newspapers including the Santa Fe New Mexican and Las Cruces Sun-News, and on the home page of KUNM. Plus, we’ve uploaded numerous state documents on our website for the public to peruse thanks to Document Cloud, a helpful journalistic tool.

Speaking of the Sun-News, that newspaper and NMID have worked diligently to document disruptions in services to vulnerable New Mexicans over several months. Not only that, but our two organizations decided to go in together last year to sue the state and demand the release of the audit New Mexico used to shut off Medicaid funding to the 15 behavioral health providers. Where is your press release asking the Democratic candidate for governor, Attorney General Gary King, to stop fighting our lawsuit demanding that the Human Services Department turn over the audit?

Meanwhile, The New Mexican has aggressively covered aspects of this complex story, digging into contracts and payments the state of New Mexico made to Arizona companies brought in to replace most of the 15 New Mexico providers.

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of what the media has done. But if it hasn’t, here are a few highlights of our coverage (yes, this is the shameless plug portion of our open letter):

  • New Mexico In Depth was the first to report that the state had a choice whether or not to shut off Medicaid funding to the 15 providers, contrary to what the state of New Mexico was saying. Our story was based on reading federal regulations, examining letters from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal register and interviewing officials with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees this area of the nation’s health care.
  • New Mexico In Depth also was the first to report findings from the Office of the Attorney General’s investigation that cleared the Counseling Center of Alamogordo of fraud charges and that the state’s auditors, Public Consulting Group, Inc. (PCG) had based its estimate of the organization’s over-billing of $612,000 on what was, in fact, $1,873 in questionable claims.
  • New Mexico In Depth was the first to report that Public Consulting Group Inc., the state’s auditors, had mistakenly flagged claims in its review of Counseling Center of Alamogordo records. The Attorney General’s investigators actually found $375 in questionable claims, not $1,873, as PCG reported.
  • New Mexico In Depth was the first to question the process the Human Services Department and PCG used in auditing the 15 behavioral health providers; specifically how the agency and consultant did not show its findings before they were finalized to the 15 providers, which is common auditing practice.
  • New Mexico In Depth was the first to report that Agave Health, one of the Arizona providers, was trimming costs to save money.
  • New Mexico In Depth was the first to report La Frontera, another of the Arizona providers, had laid off or fired 20 employees and that another six workers, including two “director level” staffers, had resigned since mid-March. The story also told readers that La Frontera was losing about $200,000 per month since January, which prompted the decision to reduce staff.
  • As we’ve already mentioned, New Mexico In Depth and the Sun-News sued the state in court demanding the release of the PCG audit. We recently filed a second motion with a state judge asking again that he order the Human Services Department to release the PCG audit.

NMID’s coverage of the behavioral health issue caught the attention last year of the Columbia Journalism Review, the nation’s most respected periodical on journalism. CJR profiled our organization and its aggressive coverage of the issue. In addition, our coverage of behavioral health won four awards this year – two from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies contest and two from the New Mexico Press Women.

I hope all this has been as fun for you guys as it has been for me. I love helping to educate lawmakers on what the media does.

Sincerely yours,

Trip Jennings