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County, UNMH to negotiate lease

Bernalillo County commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday to open lease negotiations with University of New Mexico Hospital after hearing from dozens of advocates who urged the county to press for affordable access to health care for the poor.

Commissioner Debbie O’Malley said she proposed opening the negotiations to require greater accountability by UNMH for its use of a county property tax subsidy that provided the hospital with $78.5 million in 2013.

The timing of the negotiations is critical because the county faces wrenching changes in the way health care is delivered under the federal Affordable Care Act and all county residents need better access to health care, she said.

Bernalillo County “needs a better sense of what the needs are,” O’Malley said Tuesday before the meeting. “We need to get a grip on this because there are a lot of numbers floating around.”

The county’s property tax money is deposited in UNMH’s general fund. O’Malley said she wants UNMH to better account for the way it uses the money and to provide assurances that it will meet the needs of all low-income county residents.

Commissioners plan to consider a final lease agreement by Sept. 30.

Commissioners also approved forming a 10-member advisory task force to develop recommendations to assist in the lease negotiations.

“There is going to be a huge need for a continued safety net for Bernalillo County,” Sireesha Manne, an attorney for the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, told commissioners.

Many county residents will remain uninsured after the March 31 close of the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act, including many who cannot afford to buy coverage through the New Mexico health insurance exchange, she said. The Kaufman Foundation has estimated that up to 60,000 Bernalillo County residents will remain uninsured after March 31, she said.

UNMH has received a share of the Bernalillo County property tax since 1954. Voters approved maintaining the 6.4 mill tax for UNMH in 2008, which totals $427 in annual property taxes for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000.

Steve McKernan, CEO of UNMH, attended the meeting but did not address the commission.

“The university looks forward to meeting and working with the county and discussing how we can best serve our health care needs,” McKernan said after the meeting.

O’Malley also said she wants UNMH to take a larger role in providing health care to inmates at the county jail, where medical costs are consuming ever larger amounts of money.

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