Ending the Gravy Train
09/24/2016 Article by Chuck Wilkins
The old saying “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” doesn’t apply in the case of our two local hospitals and the hospital tax. Presbyterian and UNM know exactly what they have… a gravy train. And they are working hard to keep it coming in.
After I was elected in 2012, I immediately set out to ask questions about ending the hospital tax, which at that time was 4 years in. The ballot language stated not less than 4 / not more than 8 years, giving the impression that it would be reviewed at 4 years. Not the case. It was up to the discretion of the County Commission whether to end the tax at 4 years in 2012; whether to extend it at 4 years; or just sign on for the full 8 years right away – which it turns out they did 8 years right away. Alarm bells still went off amid my inquiries, and Presbyterian and UNM began the full court press to get me to back off of the issue. Suddenly they were giving presentations to the Governing Body and requesting meetings.
In a meeting initiated by the CEOs of the hospitals, the CEOs of Rust Medical Center and Sandoval Regional Medical Center asked me what it would take to get me to drop it. City Manager Jimenez was also present. I was stunned at the level they were willing to go to keep this money rolling in. A question that I asked at this meeting was how long they expected this subsidy to continue. UNM unequivocally said they would pursue the tax indefinitely. Presbyterian, however, assured me they would NOT seek renewal of the tax in 2016. Yet here we are.
Have our tax dollars become an addiction, and are we now enablers? The hospitals provide a service like any other business – a business they wouldn’t logically continue if they were not making money. Presbyterian’s for-profit health plan announced that in January they will no longer accept subsidized plans through the Affordable Care Act. How ironic that they want taxpayers to subsidize them, but won’t accept those in the community who are subsidized and need it the most. They don’t even accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Presbyterian’s total revenue in 2015 was $2.89 BILLION, and their CEO was rated in the top 17 highest paid Healthcare Association executives (2012).
UNM is eerily similar with a 2016-17 budget of $2.85 Billion. UNM is doing so well that they announced in 2015 they will be using $250 Million of their cash reserves to pay for part of the new $600 Million main hospital. Both of these organizations continue to grow their multiple branches and entities, all while building a huge investment portfolio on the backs of the taxpayers.
A modest homeowner/business property owner like me will have paid in over $20,000 to the hospital tax if it is renewed for another eight years. That’s on top of the exorbitant insurance premium my family pays in to Presbyterian’s for-profit Health Insurance Plan and my share of the cost for any medical services.
The citizens of Sandoval County gave Presbyterian and UNM an eight year commitment to bring hospitals to Rio Rancho. We honored that commitment. Now it’s time for these two multi-billion dollar entities to stand on their own. We all know the difference between a want and a need. Now we need to demonstrate that we know it in our vote.