UNM Hospital Stops Requiring Low-Income, Uninsured Patients to Pay 50 Percent Down Payment for Surgery

ALBUQUERQUE, NM–After months of intense pressure from advocates, the UNM Hospital Board of Trustees reversed a policy, implemented in May 2017, requiring low-income, uninsured patients to pay a 50 percent down payment before surgeries. As a result of the policy, the hospital cancelled many patients’ surgeries because the patients couldn’t come up with thousands of dollars upfront to repair hernias, torn knee ligaments, broken bones, and in one case, a hysterectomy.

“We are relieved that the Hospital Board of Trustees has finally decided to treat all people with the same compassion and standard of care that insured people receive,” said Michelle Melendez, director of EleValle: South Valley Healthy Communities Collaborative. “Requiring people to pay 50 percent upfront was inhumane and not consistent with the mission of our public safety net hospital, which receives $96 million per year in property tax revenue to help cover indigent patients.”

The EleValle collaborative, which is comprised of Casa de Salud, Centro Savila, and ACCESS, teamed up with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, Juntos Para la Salud, and with patient navigators from Pathways to a Healthy Bernalillo County to educate the UNM Hospital Board of Trustees about the policy’s impact on low-income, uninsured residents of Bernalillo County. The Bernalillo County Commission and the state Legislative Health and Human Services Committee weighed in on the side of advocates.

“The hospital’s policies created an insurmountable barrier for low-income patients to get surgeries, impacting their livelihoods and forcing them to suffer through worsening medical conditions,” said Sireesha Manne, healthcare attorney at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. “We are grateful for the collaborative effort of community groups, patient navigators, and policymakers to hold the hospital accountable to its public mission.”

The board voted unanimously at the hospital’s board meeting on Friday to change the hospital’s Patient Payment and Financial Assistance policies. It also voted unanimously to establish a new Discount Program Policy for low-income patients living in New Mexico who meet poverty guidelines, are ineligible for Medicaid, and unable to purchase private insurance on the Health Insurance Exchange.

The new policies reinstate the hospital’s affordable down payment schedule that had been in place from 2005 until May 2017. Pathways navigators became aware of the hospital’s change in policy when clients who were seeking help with food, housing, transportation, and other basic needs disclosed that they were unable to work because of knee injuries and other debilitating medical conditions but could not afford a 50 percent down payment.

The reinstated schedule allows patients to pay $25, $75, or $300, depending on their level of poverty, upfront for surgeries that have been deemed medically necessary by their healthcare providers. The patients are then required to make monthly payments on the balance owed, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.

At the Friday meeting, Jerry McDowell, UNM Hospital board chairman, said, “There are some basic values that I think guide us: Do no harm to the patient. Consistent with our public service mission, serve all individuals with fairness, respect and dignity. Strive for best in class for quality, safety, and care. There are also legal guidelines overarching.”

Court Upholds Albuquerque Minimum Wage Law

ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Honorable Judge Shannon Bacon threw out a challenge to the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance today, ruling that the results of the 2012 general election are final and cannot be challenged now.

“It’s astonishing and disheartening that business groups were trying to cut hard working New Mexicans’ wages by nearly $3,000 a year,” said Trae Buffin who is a member of OLÉ. “I’m overjoyed that the court agreed with the people and that the minimum wage is safe in Albuquerque.”

The ruling arose out of a lawsuit filed against the city by business lobbyists attempting to end minimum wage, which was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2012, and to remove the earned sick days ordinance from the October 2017 ballot. Community organizations and voters who support the law intervened in the case to defend the ordinance.

The earned sick leave ballot initiative, if passed, would give workers the right to earn sick leave to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Local community organizations have been working to educate the public on the earned sick leave initiative since last summer, when over 24,000 voters in Albuquerque signed the petition in support of it.

Judge Bacon has not yet ruled on the earned sick days initiative, but indicated at the hearing that she would do so soon.

The Healthy Workforce ABQ Ordinance can be read online here: https://healthyworkforceabq.org/full-language-of-ordinance/

 

 

Judge Rejects Challenge to Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance

District Court Rules against Kelly’s Brewpub in Wage Theft Case

ALBUQUERQUE— On May 30, 2017, Second Judicial District Court Judge Alan Malott rejected a legal challenge to Albuquerque’s Minimum Wage Ordinance, denying a motion to dismiss a minimum wage case, Atyani et al. v. Bonfantine et al., No. D-202-CV-2016-2775, filed by employees of Kelly’s Brewpub against the former owners of the restaurant, Dennis and Janice Bonfantine.

The Bonfantines’ former employees have alleged that Kelly’s illegally required workers to kick back three dollars per hour from their tips after the tipped minimum wage officially increased in Albuquerque from $2.13 per hour to approximately $5.16 per hour. To defend against these claims, the Bonfantines argued that the Albuquerque minimum wage was invalid because it was increased through a voter initiative that put a summary of the wage increase on the 2012 ballot rather than the entire ordinance. Judge Malott rejected this argument, ruling that any challenge to how the 2012 election was conducted should have been made right after the election.

“Thousands of hard-working families can breathe easier now, knowing that the minimum wage in Albuquerque isn’t going to be slashed,” said Bianca Garcia, a plaintiff in the case. “The Bonfantines should be ashamed of themselves, not only for their violations of the minimum wage ordinance, but also for trying to eliminate the Albuquerque minimum wage altogether just to avoid paying back the money they took from us. We thank the court for seeing through this bogus defense.”

Judge Malott also rejected the Bonfantines’ argument that the Albuquerque minimum wage ordinance was invalid because it “logrolled” multiple issues into one question presented to voters. Malott ruled that “logrolling” is not an issue in municipal ballot measures.

“For years, the former owners of Kelly’s took hard-earned money out of their employees’ pockets, violating Albuquerque’s minimum wage ordinance that was overwhelmingly passed by city voters in 2012,” said Elizabeth Wagoner an attorney on the case from the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (the Center). “We’re looking forward to moving forward in this case. The Bonfantines’ employees deserve to collect every dollar they worked for and are owed.”

A similar case, Association of Commerce and Industry et al. v. City of Albuquerque et al., No. D-202-CV-2017-02314, filed in April by a group of business organizations, also asks the courts to invalidate the Albuquerque Minimum Wage Ordinance. That case, which is currently pending before Second Judicial District Court Judge Shannon Bacon, raises many of the same arguments that Judge Malott rejected in the May 30 Atyani v. Bonfantine decision.

Atyani v. Bonfantine is set to go to trial in summer 2018. Attorneys on the case are Wagoner and Tim Davis of the Center, and Shane Youtz and James Montalbano of Youtz & Valdez, P.C.

A copy of Judge Malott’s order can be found here.

 

JUST IN: Judge Signs Temporary Restraining Order on Printing of November Ballot

District Judge Alan Malott signed a Temporary Restraining Order this afternoon preventing the Clerk of Bernalillo County from printing ballots for the November 8, 2016 general election without a summary of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance until further Order from his court. A hearing on this matter will take place on Monday, September 12, 2016 at 4:00 p.m.

The Temporary Restraining Order can be found here.

Complaint Filed to Add Summary of Healthy Workforce Ordinance on 2016 Ballot

healthy-workforce-abq-logoToday, attorneys with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief requesting a court order to put the summary of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance on the 2016 general election ballot. The complaint named as defendants the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Both the City and the County failed to fulfill their legal obligations to send this question to the voters in November.

The summary of the Healthy Workforce Ordinance reads as follows:

Proposing to enact the Albuquerque Healthy Workforce Ordinance such that, beginning 90 days after enactment: First, Albuquerque employers must allow employees to accrue sick leave at the rate of one hour of leave per 30 hours worked. Second, employees may use sick leave for their own or a family member’s illness, injury, or medical care, or for absences related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. Third, employers with 40 or more employees must allow each employee to use up to 56 hours of accrued sick leave each year, and employers with fewer than 40 employees must allow each employee to use up to 40 hours of accrued sick leave each year. Fourth, employers must notify employees of their rights and maintain records. The ordinance also provides for public enforcement, a private right of action, and liquidated damages and penalties for noncompliance or retaliation.

The complaint filed in the Second Judicial District Court is available here.