Mr. Answer Person has been swamped with reader questions about the disagreements between Gundersen Clinic and Winneshiek Medical Center officials and about the property tax levy for hospital purposes. It would be very difficult to answer all 120 questions, so Mr. Answer Person is picking out the most frequently asked questions:
"Do other hospitals in the area get that much tax money?"
Good question. There are 117 hospitals in Iowa, according to the Iowa Hospital Association and the State of Iowa. 42 of those 117 hospitals (36 percent) receive money from a property tax levy. That group includes Winneshiek Medical Center in Decorah, Regional Health Services of Howard County in Cresco and Mitchell County Regional Health Center in Osage. 75 of the 117 hospitals in Iowa (64 percent) do not receive any taxpayer assistance. That group includes Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon, Central Community Hospital in Elkader, Floyd County Medical Center in Charles City, Guttenberg Municipal Hospital in Guttenberg and Palmer Lutheran Health Center in West Union.
"Where does the $400,000 go to? Does it go to unreimbursed care for uninsured patients? If yes, then maybe some of it is legitimate - but can other sources provide such funding?"
In general, the State of Iowa allows property taxes to be levied for hospitals for one of eight possible purposes: general expenses, emergency services, ambulance services, employer FICA contributions, employer IPERS contributions, unemployment compensation payments, debt service and lawsuit liability. In the specific case of Winneshiek Medical Center, the $435,596 levied in Winneshiek County property taxes for this year is designated for "general expenses." That money COULD be used for unreimbursed care for uninsured patients, but it is not REQUIRED to pay for that expense—it could just as well go for any of the other hospital's general expenses. As for other sources of funding of unreimbursed care for uninsured patients, if Winneshiek Medical Center did not have the property tax money, it would be in the same situation as 75 other hospitals in Iowa—it would have to find revenue from other sources, such as insurance company payments, patient payments or Medicare reimbursements, to name three possibilities, to make up for the money it could not collect for care it provided.
"When WMC is making $36 million I'm sure they could afford to write-off far more than $400,000 in charity care, right?"
Actually, the hospital is already writing off far more than that in charity care. But whether it can afford to do so is not a factual question, but one for the public to debate.
"Why are there MAYO employed administrators running MY county hospital?" This was a decision by a previous hospital Board of Trustees, which felt that the Mayo Health Systems Agency brought some expertise to the operation of the hospital that a stand-alone hospital could not have. Again, whether this was an appropriate decision is not a factual question, but one for the public to debate
Isn't the press supposed to be unbiased?
Even though Paul Scott has created a lot of work for Mr. Answer Person, Mr. A.P. would like to defend decorahnews.com's coverage of this issue. The job of the news media is to ask questions, which is what Paul has done. Often readers will accuse the news media of bias, when what they really want is someone to stop asking questions and instead take their side of an issue. As Paul stated in an earlier editorial, he likes both Winneshiek Medical Center and Gundersen Clinic. His question is "Is it fair to take property taxes from the public for the support of the hospital, but then to have the hospital deny service to a portion of the taxpaying public because of the type of health insurance they have?" Again, this is not a factual question, but one for the public to debate.
One final note to decorahnews.com readers: We have been posting editorial comments on our main news page in recent months because our software shows the comments get substantially higher viewership on the main news page. However, this practice might blur the line between news and opinion. Starting today, we will post editorial comments on our main news page for one day only and clearly mark them "OPINION." The comments will then be moved to our "Opinion" pages the next day, where they will remain archived.