Passing The Buck On Hospital Bills

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University of New Mexico Hospital is in a looming financial crisis. We are currently breaking even but in two years the hospital needs a profit of $14 million a year to pay for the new “west wing.”

We are told by the CEO that the cause of this crisis is uninsured patients and undocumented immigrants not paying their bills. Administrators constantly cite a figure of about $95 million for “uncompensated” care and claim that uninsured patients pay only $5 total on average on their bills. With numbers like these, one could easily draw the conclusion that administrators are correct.

But for many of us who have been looking closely at UNMH finances over the past several years, we have drawn a different conclusion. The figure of $95 million in uncompensated care is wrong. UNMH receives vast sums of public money from county ($54 million), state ($9 million) and federal ($18 million) sources which administrators refuse to acknowledge as “compensation.” This drops the estimate to $14 million and there is good reason to think that it is actually less based on other significant tax breaks.

$14 million is a respectable number, but how much money does UNMH lose from insured patients because of contract negotiations, billing errors and/or nonpayment? For a $600 million institution, I'm willing to bet it's fairly close to $14 million.

The looming crisis is due in large part to poor investment decisions by top UNMH administrators who operate in a health policy vacuum. They shun the advice of duly elected officials, public health and primary care experts and uninsured patients themselves.

So why does all this matter? Because in real terms, this scapegoating of the uninsured has allowed UNMH administrators to create a culture of antagonism against uninsured patients in the hospital and clinics. And this has allowed our public institution to put payment policies in place that effectively create a two-tiered system of healthcare based on insurance and citizenship status.

Is this a value system we wish to support for our public hospital? Many staff, providers and community members say no. We are supported by the UNMH code of ethics as well as a legal contract, the lease agreement with Bernalillo County. This legal document states that as long as UNMH gets public tax monies it must treat people with insurance equally to people without insurance.

I encourage staff, providers and patients to find ways to speak out anonymously or in public. Our county commissioners care about this issue and we are sure Governor Richardson will too.

Free Will For Cry Babies

It’s not that politicians’ kids should be forced to go to war, Mr. Latta [Letters, “Free Will for War Babies,” June 23-29], it’s that anyone’s kids should have to make a decision to do so. War in Iraq was chosen by the current U.S. administration for an ever-varying array of reasons and not, as far as I can tell, due to necessity. The U.S. has displaced a corrupt regime but has not achieved its stated aims. Who knows if we’ll ever do so?

Mr. Scarantino [“The Real Side,” June 16-22] attacks the politicians, I believe, partly because neither they nor their offspring will ever bear the true cost their decisions have dictated. It costs much more to be poor than to be rich. As for free will, remember what someone once said: “The rich are equally free to choose to sleep under bridges as the poor.”

Heartbreak Hotels

A number of important facts were left out of Scott Cameron’s letter [“Fair Housing For All,” June 23-29] regarding low income and homeless allegedly affected when condemned motels are torn down by the city.

Mr. Cameron would have readers believe low rent, fleabag motels are the cheapest option for people who can afford nothing else. He also claims people are thrown into the street when a motel, apartment or single family residence is torn down. This is simply false.

As one who lived near Central for five plus years and endured the never ending parade of drunks, drug dealers, prostitutes and murders nearby, I applaud the city’s actions to tear down as many of these roach infested shit holes as soon as possible.

Mr. Cameron claims our “diversity” is some how threatened when an eyesore such as the Royal is torn down. I guess in his eyes we need a certain percentage of hookers, drug addicts and felons as part of our cultural mix.

Some facts: Even the cheapest, filthiest, run-down Central motel charges $125 to $150 per week. Even though apartment property values have skyrocketed recently; rents have remained stagnant in Albuquerque. There is an abundant supply of freshly renovated apartments near just about any of the aforementioned fleabags for $375 to $500 per month. That’s affordable, readily available housing (no long-term lease required) versus a tiny, unsafe $600 per month room where most managers toss people out on their ear if they don’t have next week's rent.

It’s not as if the city decides to tear down a motel, apartment building or single family home on a whim either. It sometimes takes years of police calls, neighbor complaints, repeat violations and City Council action before anything happens. When a building does come down, the city works with residents to find them suitable housing. No one is left on the street unless they want to be.

Yes, Mr. Cameron, some of us would rather have new lofts, office spaces or even a clean, professionally run motel instead of a dingy, crime-infested eyesore that attracts a “diverse” number of felons and scumbags.

Not everyone at one of these places is a criminal, but there are enough on a regular basis to have a ruinous impact on the surrounding areas. If the other noncriminal element isn’t smart enough to find a larger, safer, cheaper apartment 200 yards away, why should we as a city suffer?

Contrary to popular opinion, the strength of our neighborhoods does not lie in its diversity. It lies in unity—a united front of diverse people sick of being victimized by sleazy motel owners and scumbag landlords who rely on the naive views of people like Mr. Cameron to keep them in business and victimize us all.

Letters should be sent with the writer's name, address and daytime phone number via e-mail to They can also be faxed to (505) 256-9651. Letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may be published in any medium; we regret that owing to the volume of correspondence we cannot reply to every letter.

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