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High prices raise questions about hospitals' charity status

Santa Fe New Mexican, July 28, 2014

When it comes to financial losses, hospitals largely control their own fortunes. On paper, uncompensated care is the hallmark of a hospital's charitable nature. It's the foundation of nonprofit hospitals' tax-exempt status and a badge of honor that hospitals, regardless of whether they belong to for-profit companies, tout as a measure of benevolence to the communities they serve. But charity can also be the gateway to tangible financial benefits for hospitals. Nationally, and in New Mexico, where analysis of hospital pricing data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed markups on health care sometimes exceeding 800 percent of the government-prescribed rates, pricing has a direct correlation to how charitable hospitals appear on paper.