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New Oil and Gas Rules Can Protect Public Health

"The communities we work with are seeing the serious health impacts of oil and gas pollution."

Oil and gas pollution is a public health issue.

The New Mexico Environment Department and the Environmental Improvement Board must strengthen rules to protect those living closest to development. See the op-ed below for more, from The Santa Fe New Mexican:

New oil and gas rules can protect public health

  • Sep 24, 2021, Updated Sep 24, 2021

Safeguarding public health is central to the mission of the Environmental Improvement Board, and it has a rare opportunity to protect the long-term health of New Mexicans with a single action this month.

As it considers the New Mexico Environment Department’s proposed oil and gas pollution rules, the Environmental Improvement Board should include key improvements supported by public health advocates and industry that will deliver the strongest possible protections — especially for frontline communities living closest to well sites...(read more)

Health Action

David Mitchell Talks Affordable Prescriptions

"High prices limit access to medications people need right now." (David Mitchell)
Access to affordable prescriptions is critical for our communities throughout both New Mexico and the United States.
The latest false attack on Medicare negotiations is that proposed legislation will limit our access to prescription drugs. It’s important to set the record straight clearly and directly.
Health Action

Fact-Checking Pharma

New ad campaigns financed by the pharmaceutical industry are spreading rumors about direct Medicare negotiation — here's why those rumors are false.

Health Action

‘We Just Have To All Agree That This Isn’t Working’: Drug-Pricing Reform Faces ‘Pivotal’ Moment On Capitol Hill

Read about the biggest pharmaceutical developments and pricing stories from the past week in KHN's Prescription Drug Watch roundup.

Yahoo Finance: HHS Ready To Battle Drug Companies For Lower Prices In Court: Sec. Becerra

Drug prices are once again in focus on Capitol Hill as lawmakers renew their push for pricing reform. And U.S. Health and Human Services Department Sec. Xavier Becerra has joined in on the effort. "We just have to all agree that this isn't working. Countries around the world are providing medicine to their people for far less than we do," Becerra told Yahoo Finance in an exclusive interview Monday, adding that often those same drugs are made in the U.S. Becerra made an appearance alongside U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06) and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) in New Jersey Monday at a multi-city event to discuss lower drug costs. (Khemlani, 8/17)

FiercePharma: Buckle Up, Pharma. Your Industry Faces A 'Pivotal' 45 Days In D.C., Analyst Warns 

If there was any doubt about the sincerity President Joe Biden wanted to convey with his appeal to Congress on drug pricing reform, he removed it by bringing his departed mom into the discussion. Speaking in the East Room of the White House on Thursday, Biden recalled that Catherine Biden’s “prescription drugs were so expensive” that it took money from himself, his two brothers and a sister to cover the cost so she wouldn’t have to “exhaust the little savings she had.” With that, Biden set the scene for what promises to be a contentious several weeks in Washington as Congress weighs potential measures to combat high drug costs. (Dunleavy, 8/16)

KVOA: AARP Launches Campaign To Lower Prescription Drug Prices

On Monday, AARP launched a three-week television, and radio advertising campaign urging U.S. Senators to support allowing Medicare to use its power to negotiate drug prices with drug manufacturers. The seven-figure investment highlights negotiation as a critical step toward lowering prescription drug costs for all Americans, especially seniors who on average take between four and five medications each month and have a median income of just over $26,000 a year, AARP said. (Nylander, 8/16)

WREX: New Laws Aim To Lower Prescription Drug Prices In Illinois

Governor JB Pritzker Monday signed a package of legislation that aims to address financial obstacles in accessing health care, while increasing transparency when purchasing prescription medications. HB 119 formalizes the legal process for donating unused prescription drugs to certified pharmacies or health departments. By establishing a prescription drug repository program, prescription and over-the-counter medication that remain unexpired and unopened can be returned to pharmacies and reused for eligible populations. (8/17)

Health Action

We can make drugs more affordable for New Mexicans

  • Aug 14, 2021

It is tough to go even a week without seeing another report about pharmaceutical industry profiteering, and it’s time for New Mexicans to fight back. In the latest outrage, the New York Times reports the drug manufacturer Biogen will charge $56,000 a year for its new Alzheimer’s drug, Aduhelm.

Drug prices have little to do with the cost of research and development and the need to deliver affordable treatment to patients, and much more to do with company revenue targets and profits. Biogen’s stock soared nearly 40 percent on news of the $56,000 price tag. Prescription drug companies are the only businesses in the health care industry whose rates are not regulated. It’s time to hold them to the same standard as all other health care providers.

New Mexico needs a prescription drug affordability board to help ensure we all have access to affordable medications, because drugs don’t work if people can’t afford them, and our health care system cannot sustain the continued upward pressure of rising drug costs. By creating such a board, the state Legislature and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham can empower an independent body with the authority to evaluate high-cost drugs and set reasonable rates for consumers.

Other states are already acting to take on the pharmaceutical industry’s anti-consumer practices. The Colorado Legislature just passed a prescription drug board that will consider a broad range of economic factors when setting appropriate payment rates for reviewed drugs, requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to justify drug costs. Once a fair rate is determined, the board sets an upper payment limit that applies to all purchasers and payer reimbursements in the state, ensuring lower costs benefit consumers.

The bill sets various conditions that would trigger an affordability review, including when prices increase by more than 10 percent per year, or exceed either $30,000 a year for brand-name drugs or $100 a month for generics per person. Patients or consumer advocates also could nominate drugs for review.

New Mexicans continue to struggle to afford the prescription drugs they need, often having to choose between their medication and other necessities, like rent and groceries. Meanwhile, the drug companies that produce these drugs make billions of dollars a year in profits.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reports 35 big drug companies raked in $8.6 billion in profits between 2000 and 2018. Nine of the top 10 companies spend more money on marketing and advertising than they do on researching new drugs. There is no excuse for the high prices they charge.

A new statewide coalition of health experts, patient advocates and consumers — New Mexico Consumers for Affordable Prescriptions — is urging our lawmakers to create a prescription drug affordability board and end the prescription drug price gouging that hurts our families and neighbors. Organizations ranging from AARP, the Center on Law and Poverty, Health Action New Mexico, to New Mexico Voices for Children and the New Mexico Conference of Churches, have come together to demand action in the 2022 legislative session.

On average, Americans pay four times as much for the same medicines as people in other countries. As prescription drug companies continue to increase prices, it’s time to stand up to those who are harming vulnerable New Mexicans. We need controls to make drugs more affordable for people. New Mexico needs a prescription drug affordability board.

Kurt Rager is director of Lutheran Advocacy Ministry, New Mexico, and Erik Lujan is board president of Health Action New Mexico.

Health Action

Reaching the Unvaccinated

As more groups and individuals join the ranks of fully vaccinated,  another ~40% of New Mexicans and ~50% of Americans have reported a myriad of reasons they are hesitant to get vaccinated.

Recently, KOB 4 Eyewitness News gathered information on a research poll conducted by UNM policy professors. This poll featured over 2,000 responses from New Mexicans in regards to how New Mexicans feel about the Covid-19 vaccines. This research suggests that currently, 36% of unvaccinated New Mexicans intend on never getting the shot (that is 10% of everyone 18+ and 8% of the entire state). They found that vaccine hesitancy is extremely high among rural New Mexicans and Native Americans. Hispanics/Latinos and other minorities had a lower than average vaccine hesitancy rate. The study also found that younger people were less concerned about getting the shot as they felt it was unnecessary. 

This study delved into the various reasons many groups face uncertainty about the vaccine. Some things contributing to such hesitancy within New Mexico include, but are not limited to, cultural beliefs, political beliefs (51% of unvaccinated Republicans say they will never get the shot), overall stress about the moment they get the shot (many people prefer to get their jab through a health care professional familiar and trustworthy to them), misinformation in regards to Covid-19 vaccinations (the uninsured can still get the vaccine), and lack of equitable access. 

A crucial takeaway for advocates is that not all unvaccinated individuals are against the vaccine. Two-thirds of the unvaccinated in New Mexico do intend to get the vaccine eventually but are hesitant or lack equitable access. For these individuals, making the vaccine as accessible as possible, mitigating potential hesitancies such as the fear of missing work, as well as education towards the true science behind the vaccine, will be crucial in the effort to increase vaccination rates.

To help combat the significant number of individuals with a lack of vaccine access, Health Action has embarked on a targeted vaccine project to get rural older adults and farmworkers vaccinated. These efforts will include direct and indirect outreach, acting as a liaison between rural communities and state vaccination programs, and burgeoning partnerships with local clinics and trusted messengers to spread the word about how to get the vaccine. 

Only through on-the-ground, grassroots efforts and direct, tailored action can we begin to witness a shift towards trust in the vaccine among the unvaccinated and increased vaccination rates in rural and vulnerable populations. If the vaccine becomes more available and outreach efforts overcome hesitancy, New Mexico can get ahead of Covid-19 and the Delta variant and prevent more loss of life.

Contact for information about this project.

Written by Katelyn Patchell, Gurleen Sembhi, and Gabriella Rivera

Health Action

Community Voices: Steven Alton's Experience with Uberly and Drug Affordability

My story is very concerning. I've been prescribed Ubrely for my severe migraine headaches this medication is $259.11 dollars for 10 pills and that is the donut hole price. I've been having migraines for about three years. It took them those three years to find a medication that would work and they tried many which made me feel like a guinea pig. Finally my doctor sent me to New Mexico Neurology. The Veterans Administration did an MRI and couldn't find anything. My neurologist said they don't understand why it happens it just does. They tried two medications one worked and one didn't. My health insurance company didn't want to pay for it because it was name brand and because of the price. My neurologist had to submit three priority authorizations which they denied. And they suggested two generic drugs that would have killed me, they finally okayed it and the Co-pay was $215.30 for 10 pills after that the price dropped to $ 66.60 for 10 pills. I have AARP Medicare Advantage because I can't afford a premium. I can't get Medicade or foodstamps because I make too much money. So the Veterans Administration helps out because I had eight years in the Military. I live on $1428.00 dollars a month I can't afford some of my drugs, rent, food, and so on because of my fixed income. And no one seems to care — not the governor, mayor, legislators, congress, not the president. They take money away from senior citizens and veterans and when we ask why they send us a form letter and say they want to help… ha !! Ha !! And drug companies want to help people get their medications but if you have Medicare or Medicaid you don't qualify for these programs. I know because my doctor and I have tried. And they still won't stop Big Pharma because 402 legislators just accepted 1.8 billion dollars for them to continue doing what they do….enough is enough! Because you're going to help me or you're not, because I can't afford these prices unless you want me dead…

Word of Mouth

Nueva Ley, Permite acceso a Servicios Médicos Para Indocumentados en Nuevo México

Se trata de la ley HB-112, misma que lleva por nombre “Beneficios de Salud para Determinados no Ciudadanos.” La ordenanza recién fue firmada por la gobernadora Michelle Lujan Grisham y prohíbe la discriminación hacia inmigrantes en cualquier programa de cuidado médico financiado por el estado.

La ley federal excluye a muchas personas inmigrantes de programas federales tales como Medicaid, incluyendo a quienes poseen una visa, víctimas de violencia, niños y beneficiarios de DACA.

La legislatura de Nuevo México creó un sistema para que los condados y hospitales utilicen los impuestos locales para cubrir algunos costos de salud para las personas sin seguro.

Word of Mouth

Andrew's Testimony on new EPA Methane Rules

Oil and Gas emissions pose an imminent public health threat. During an EPA listening session for the upcoming oil and gas methane rule, we heard from our own Andrew Baker on the need for action to curb emissions from oil and gas. The full transcript of his statement is below.

If you'd like to provide your own public comment, submissions are open until July 30, 2021 at this link.

            Hello, my name is Andrew Baker and I’m a policy analyst with Health Action New Mexico. I’m a recent graduate of the University of New Mexico’s College of Population Health, and I’ve lived in New Mexico since I was 4 years old.

            I would like to thank the Environmental Protection Agency for allowing me to speak at this hearing today as a member of the public. I believe that the proposed methane rule is in the interest of the health of New Mexicans, and I would like to voice my support. Right now, there are over 130,000 New Mexicans living within a mile of an active oil/gas operation, many of whom are traditionally disadvantaged. As a matter of environmental justice, it’s important that we address emissions across all lands, not just areas with a high population density – more than 1 in 3 New Mexicans live in a rural area, so this issue is especially important for my state.

            To demonstrate the effects of oil and gas emissions on our communities, I’d like to share some findings from a Health Impact Assessment conducted last year in Counselor, New Mexico. This assessment found that residents who lived within line-of-sight of an oil and gas operation (more than ten percent of the population) suffered respiratory symptoms after drilling began near their homes, which is consistent with national health studies. While these symptoms can’t all be attributed to methane emission, we know that methane is a precursor to formaldehyde and is found with other volatile organic compounds and emissions from the oil and gas industry that may increase the rates of these symptoms. Beyond those direct health impacts, people are anxious about the lack of information around the safety of their air, and the impacts of oil and gas pollution compound with health impacts of other particulate matter. I’ve grown up dealing with occasionally poor air quality from dust storms and wildfires, and it’s tough to be outside, but I couldn’t imagine dealing with that short-term stress if I had an underlying respiratory condition.

            New Mexicans care deeply about our relationship with the environment – we’re the Land of Enchantment, and there are plenty of cultures that have been here before the USA was a country, that place an emphasis on environmental stewardship. There’s a deep understanding in New Mexico that the health of our environment is closely tied to the health of our people, but our laws have not caught up with that understanding. I’ll often run into people on the trail or on our public lands who have moved here for the climate, because our dry air helps with respiratory issues, because we’ve only got 4 or 5 days without sunshine per year, and because there are so many outdoor areas for recreation, all put at risk by methane emissions. As a young person, I’ve also experienced the generational anxiety around climate change and pollution. I know many people who have seen the lack of action on climate issues and used that to justify pessimism and nihilism. I have friends who have taken direct action to curb their impact on the climate – I’m one of many people who’ve changed their diet and behaviors to lessen our impact, and plenty of my friends try to stay up to date with the latest news about what they can do to improve their impact on the world, but it’s tough to make those personal commitments when the actions of industry are such an overwhelming factor in climate change. It’s heartbreaking to hear my friends say that they don’t believe it’s ethical to have children, but we are seeing significant impacts to our health and our climate from this pattern of oil and gas development, and it’s tough to convince them to be hopeful.

            I had the chance to sit in on a meeting of the New Mexico Environmental Department’s Ozone Attainment Initiative during initial public comment back in 2019, and it was encouraging to see all the engagement on such an important environmental issue, but there were plenty of points in the meeting where members of the public had questions about the environmental impacts of oil and gas, or methane more specifically – and the line they were given was that the rules didn’t allow for measurement of methane directly, but that ozone could be used as a proxy. More recently, we’ve seen that some of the worst polluters in the country have used the opacity around those rules to self-report their methane emissions and downplay the severity of the harm to the climate and to our health at all levels. I’m hopeful that this rule can capitalize on that engagement and allow local advocates to learn more about what’s in their air and how it affects their health.

            Finally, I’d like to urge this committee to look at some additional actions that can improve the health of our communities. That Counselor study found that residents often did not receive information on projected exposure, or times when emissions would be at their peak. That information is vital for people to make decisions about their health – the dose makes the poison, and if people can take actions to lower their exposure, we should give them the tools to do so. I can see a dust storm and stay inside, but we need special cameras to detect the presence of oil and gas emissions. It’s also important that we have more transparency around emissions compliance – during our last state legislative session we gave our environmental improvement board the authority to deny permits to producers who have not complied with regulations, but this information is often tough to find and not standardized. This is to underline that while state action is possible, we need strong federal actions, and really action at all levels to support this goal.

            Again, I’d like to thank the EPA for addressing this critical issue. Increased commitment to methane emissions is important for the health the environment and all people, but especially for New Mexico and our historically underrepresented communities. New Mexicans have been begging for action, and I hope that this rule is a first step in a comprehensive process to protect our health and our environment.

Health Action

Rural Voices Final Report

Here's how Rural New Mexicans have been dealing with COVID-19

We're excited to share the results of the Rural Voices for COVID Recovery Project with you! At the start of the pandemic, we recognized that rural communities were facing unique challenges that wouldn't be addressed by the traditional relief process. With 1 in 3 New Mexicans living in rural areas, this is a significant lack of representation. To remedy this, we at Health Action convened monthly virtual meetings with members of several communities around the state, from Socorro and Truth or Consequences, Las Cruces, the Colonias, Alamagordo, Roswell, to Clovis and Española. In these meetings we heard from some incredible community leaders - mayors, farmers, sheriffs, students, food bank volunteers, and grandparents. The insights that these communities provided were astounding! While it's easy to see the policy process on paper, hearing how people are affected by those changes offers a different perspective on many issues with relief and rebuilding after the pandemic. Throughout this process, we wanted to make sure that their voices were uplifted, so that policymakers and people outside of rural New Mexico could understand the unique struggles and solutions that have faced 1/3 of our state.

Click Here to view the full report

Click Here to view notable legislation from the 2021 Legislative Session

Rural Voices for COVID Recovery