Record Staff Writer
The Chaves County Board of Commissioners approved on Wednesday advertising a public hearing to discuss the changes to the state sole community provider law.
The public hearing will be held at 9 a.m., on May 15, to discuss changes to the law that occurred due to the Legislature passing Senate bill 268, said Chairman James Duffey.
Senate bill 268 was introduced as a way for counties to fund indigent care, requiring counties to put one-twelfth of the Gross Receipts Tax to the state fund which will supply money to help pay for indigent health care as well as fund county-owned hospitals.
Counties have been granted a new taxing authority and the state pledged $9 million to help rural hospitals.
“I can tell you the folks in Lea County don’t like this decision at all,” Commissioner Smiley Wooton said.
The Sole Community Provider Program is a system of payments for indigent patient care to SCP Hospitals under a special program in New Mexico’s Medicaid Plan, which is a federal/state partnership, according to the website nmlegis.gov. The federal share, 75 percent, is funded by Medicaid dollars and the state’s 25 percent share is funded by counties via an intergovernmental transfer.
At the end of 2012, however, the program faced a 70 percent reduction in allowable funding, reducing available payments from $246 million to about $69 million in 2013. As of Dec. 31, 2013, that program was terminated and replaced by the Safety Net Care Pool.
The changes are tied to the state’s agreement with the federal government under the Affordable Health Care Act. The law will be enacted July 1.
Senate bill 268 allows the Human Services Department to continue making additional payments to New Mexico’s mostly rural and frontier hospitals that provide access to health care services for so many New Mexicans, according to the website. Preserving the ability of these hospitals to stay open and provide critical care and access is crucial.
“This legislation is the outcome of collaboration by counties, the legislature, and hospitals to better secure their financial footing, and I am pleased everyone came together to pass this important bill,” Gov. Susana Martinez said in her summary of the bill. “Hospitals across the state, and especially our small and rural hospitals, face multiple challenges to their financing and operations.”
Commissioner Greg Nibert said the one-twelfth payment to the state would amount to the county’s contribution to the state increasing from $500,000 to nearly $1 million, if the preliminary numbers he has seen are correct.
“Lea and Eddy county really took it on the chin,” Nibert said, adding that one bright spot of the new legislation is that the state is administering the fund instead of the county.
The commissioners also approved the auditor selection committee’s recommendation that the county continue using the services of the firm Heinfeld, Meech & Co. of Tucson, Ariz.
The contract is awarded for three years, and the cost of the first year’s audit will be $56,453, said Tammy Briscoe West, purchasing and fire services director for the county.
“The federal single audit expense was removed from the first year because we did not have any federal grants or expenditures,” she said. The contract amount for year two will be $61,656 (less $5,350 if no federal audit is required) and the third year will cost $64,021 (less $5,650 if no federal audit is needed).
Wooton noted that local firm Accounting and Consulting Group LLP of Roswell was ranked not far behind Heinfeld, Meech & Co., and he asked if the recommending committee considered awarding the contract to a local company instead of an out-of-state firm.
County Finance Director Joe Sedillo told the commissioners that having a firm which is already familiar with the county’s operations and procedures made the audits more efficient and ultimately less expensive.
Briscoe West agreed. “Some of the firms in their Request For Proposals submitted proposals saying they could complete the audit in 300 hours, but from experience we know that is not possible, especially if they are unfamiliar with our procedures,” she said. “Ultimately what happens is they come back asking for more hours, which costs the county more money.”
If the cost of the audits is over $60,000 annually, the county is allowed to use the same firm for six consecutive years by law, Briscoe West said. If the amount is less than $60,000, then the county could contract with the same firm for up to 12 years.
Every three years, however, the county is required to solicit bids for auditors.