ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — While the latest KRQE News 13 poll shows that COVID-19 isn’t a major focus for most voters, Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham recently released a TV ad highlighting her experience as Governor during the pandemic. The advertisement claims “during COVID, Governor Lujan Grisham saved thousands of lives.”
So what data exists to support that claim and others made in the advertisement? KRQE News 13 is looking into the gubernatorial candidates’ political advertisements over the next several months in the run-up to Election Day to help voters get the full story. The goal is to give you the context you need.
Counting lives saved
As the head of the state’s executive branch, the governor has the power to issue emergency orders in times of manmade or natural disaster, according to state law. Lujan Grisham, of course, did just that during the COVID-19 pandemic through the state’s “Public Health Emergency Response Act” (PHERA), a sweeping bill passed in 2003.
Public health orders and restrictions drew sharp criticism from some, but members of the Governor’s cabinet have defended the decision to impose lockdowns. In March of 2021, New Mexico’s Human Services and now-acting Department of Health Secretary, Dr. David Scrase, said that collaboration among state agencies during the pandemic saved lives, according to an analysis of New Mexico data.
At the time, estimations from Presbyterian Health Services showed that if New Mexico did nothing to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 18,900 or so people would have died in the first year of the pandemic. With all the actions New Mexicans took, the actual death toll in the first year was under 4,000.
“Unchecked, if we’d done absolutely nothing, no measures whatsoever, It would have been similar to early days in Wuhan, China,” Scrase said in that 2021 press conference marking COVID’s one-year anniversary. We would have thousands of additional deaths, he added.
So that’s where the claim that Lujan Grisham saved lives comes from, according to Delaney Corcoran, Lujan Grisham’s campaign spokesperson. But it’s important to note that in context, Dr. Scrase was talking about all the measures that all New Mexicans were doing to keep the virus from spreading. He was not only talking about executive order-induced shutdowns, but also about every New Mexican’s choices to help stay safe, such as wearing masks and getting vaccinated.
“We want to thank all the people of New Mexico,” Scrase added. “Because you’re a really important part of that [downward] curve [in cases] as well.”
In March 2021, KRQE News 13 explored the topic of how politics affected New Mexico’s COVID-19 death count. According to CDC data, New Mexico has charted around 405 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 people, ranking the state sixth in the COVID-19 per capita death rate among all other U.S. states and territories, since January 2020.
The ad goes on to point out that Lujan Grisham capped insulin costs. So, did she?
In 2020, state lawmakers passed a new section of the state’s Healthcare Purchasing Act, which aims to reduce insulin costs. That law essentially caps New Mexicans’ insulin at $25 per 30-day supply.
Lujan Grisham arguably had a key role in creating that 2020 cap. In January of 2020, she asked New Mexico lawmakers to specifically consider that bill after speaking of capping “co-pays and out-of-pocket costs for patients with chronic conditions like diabetes” in her State of the State address.
The “Prescription Drug Cost Sharing” Act, or House Bill 292 passed in the 2020 regular legislative session in nearly unanimous votes of the New Mexico House and Senate. Only two Republican house reps and one Republican senator voted against it.
At the national level, all states recently saw an insulin price cap, as well as part of the “Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.” The federal legislation includes a provision capping Medicare beneficiaries monthly insulin costs at $35. That cap applies nationally, and was passed by legislators in Washington D.C., then signed by President Biden on August 16.
Mental health co-pay
Lovato also says Lujan Grisham ended co-pays for mental health. Here again, many others had a hand in enacting state laws that cut co-pays.
In April 2021, Lujan Grisham did sign Senate Bill 317, which among other things prohibits co-pays for behavioral health services until 2027. But the bill had to go through the state legislature to become law, so Lujan Grisham did not remove co-pays single handedly.
Importing lower-cost medicine from Canada
Finally, Lovato says Lujan Grisham “is working to import lower-cost medicine from Canada.” That’s something New Mexico’s Democratic state politicians have been working on for years now.
Several years ago, Lujan Grisham asked state lawmakers to consider legislation that would allow wholesale prescription drug imports from Canada. At the time, Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about the potential impact on local pharmacists.
For the import plan to work, New Mexico has to rely on federal legislation. New Mexico’s legislature did pass the Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation Act within the state, and in 2019, the federal Food and Drug Administration issued final rules on what can and can’t be imported.
In 2020, New Mexico did submit an import application. But as of August 2022, when New Mexico’s Department of Health gave an update on the application, the federal government hasn’t approved any applications.
So who is Dr. Lovato?
Dr. Lovato is an internal medicine specialist working at the University of New Mexico. According to Lujan Grisham’s campaign team, Lovato volunteered to speak in the ad. “I wanted to do my part to make sure she is reelected,” Lovato said in a statement.
Editor’s Note: KRQE News 13 fact checking and contextualizing television ads used in the 2022 race for New Mexico’s Governor’s office. Ads reviewed are ads from the candidates, not from political action committees. The review period consists of ads either released, or running between September 5, 2022 and the November election. For more KRQE News 13 Fact Check articles, visit KRQE.com/elections