(Albuquerque) New Mexico subsidizes hospitals, specifically UNMH, through both a tax exemption and outright tax dollar expenditures of nearly $100 million annually.

While such subsidies might be reasonable were they narrowly-targeted at indigent care and the needy, but a planned $146 million expansion currently under consideration for UNMH would not be targeted at indigent care, rather it is designed to attract middle and upper-income patients to a taxpayer subsidized facility. Worse, due to a lack of transparency at UNMH, no one knows where this money will come from.

As Scott Moody and Wendy Warcholik, Ph.D, the authors of the new Rio Grande Foundation report, “Lack of Transparency for New Mexico’s Not-For-Profit Hospitals Cost Taxpayers Dearly,” economic theory predicts this type of behavior by not-for-profit hospitals since the tax exemptions and subsidies encourage “vertical integration…” As a consequence, for-profit health care providers are “crowded-out” of the marketplace by not-for-profit health care providers.

Moody and Warcholik argue that policymakers need to be vigilant about the potential for not-for-profit hospitals to creep into for-profit medical services through the aggressive use of their tax-exempt status and note that over time, this tax advantage will result in an over-population of not-for-profits which is bad for the economy and state and local coffers.

In the short-term, policymakers should put a stop to this and other questionable expansions of New Mexico’s fast-growing, taxpayer-subsidized hospital network. In the longer run, New Mexico policymakers should consider ways to prevent such hospitals from growing beyond their original intent.

One possible solution put forth by Moody and Warcholik is a piece of legislation considered by the New Hampshire legislature during 2012. The bill, (HB 1482), would have limited tax exempt activities to a hospital’s main campus. This would at least give local governments the final say on expansions of such tax-exempt facilities in their communities.

In the longer-term, Moody and Warcholik argue that New Mexico policymakers might want to consider tying indigent health care expenditures to the individual patient as opposed to funding institutions themselves.