New Mexico COVID-19 patients could be treated in tents in parking lots if spike continues

If residents across the state do not change their behavior, hospitals will be so overwhelmed by mid-November from COVID-19 patients, hospitals will have to set up “MASH” like tents in parking lots and share ventilators between patients. The state’s Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase and two guests, Dr. Jason Mitchell, chief medical officer for Albuquerque-based Presbyterian Healthcare Services and Dr. David Gonzales, chief medical officer for Christus St. Vincent Health System in Santa Fe, said that during an online press conference Thursday. Thursday afternoon, after the press conference, the state reported a record number of new cases and another record number of hospitalizations for COVID-19. Mitchell said the state is at “a pivotal point.”

Related: Heads of NM hospitals: Now is the time for New Mexicans to buckle down

If the cases of COVID-19 continue to increase at the current rate, the number of needed hospital beds will rise above the state’s 439 ICU beds, Mitchell said.

AG sues Presbyterian over millions in alleged unpaid taxes

New Mexico’s Attorney General says one of the state’s largest healthcare providers committed fraud by deliberately underpaying taxes for over a decade by falsifying Medicaid deductions and credits. Attorney General Hector Balderas filed the claim in state court in Santa Fe Tuesday, alleging that Presbyterian Health Plan, Inc. and Presbyterian Healthcare Services filed claims for tax deductions and credits related to Medicaid for above what the company qualified for between 2001 and 2015.[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The state’s best political coverage. [/perfectpullquote]The suit refers to Presbyterian’s actions as “systemic and deliberate.”

“When insurance providers break the rules, they must face consequences,” Balderas said in a statement released by his office. “My office is working with the State Auditor to make sure that Presbyterian—and any other companies that engaged in similar fraudulent conduct—are held responsible for the serious injuries imposed on New Mexican taxpayers.”

Meanwhile, a separate audit of premium tax collections continues, State Auditor Tim Keller said in a statement. In a statement to NM Political Report, a spokeswoman said Presbyterian is “confident that we have acted in good faith and with the intent to comply with our legal obligations and responsibilities” and said the company “vehemently reject[s] the allegations made today and we look forward to a positive resolution to this matter.”

“We are genuinely alarmed and surprised by the timing and nature of these allegations,” the emailed statement from Communications Manager Melanie Mozes said.

New Mexico House passes budget, tax package

The New Mexico House of Representatives passed a spending plan late Wednesday that boosts funding for classrooms and the courts, while cutting money for colleges and universities and leaving most other agencies with no new money. A companion bill also headed to the Senate, House Bill 202, would raise more revenue for future years by boosting fees and taxes. The $250 million a year in new ongoing revenue is needed to avoid more spending cuts and to replenish cash reserves, said sponsor Carl Trujillo, D- Santa Fe. “We are bleeding, we need to stop that bleeding,” Trujillo said as he held up a graph showing the state’s diminished reserves. The House approved the revenue measure first, because the proposed budget needs some $157 million in additional money to meet the constitutional requirement for a balanced budget.

Democrats push tax, budget plans to House floor

An effort that had broad support to bring in more money to New Mexico government by taxing all internet sales has mushroomed into a measure to raise additional money from hospitals, trucking companies, nonprofit organizations and car buyers. Democrats say the amendments to House Bill 202, originally an effort to raise $30 million by expanding the gross receipts tax to out-of-state internet transactions, are necessary to restore cash reserves and put the state on better financial footing to avoid further cuts to school districts and another credit downgrade. With the changes, the bill is now expected to bring in $265 million in ongoing revenue. Some $1 million a year would come from the legislative retirement fund. A sponsor of the tax bill, Rep. Carl Trujillo D-Santa Fe, said lawmakers have cut spending, both during the 2016 session and again in an October special session.