BY PAPA JOHN KOLSTAD
Twin Cities health care activists are seeking changes to a state law that gives nearly free state collection services to a corporate giant. Health Partners/Regions Hospital enjoys the privilege of having the Minnesota Department of Revenue provide collection services for debt people owe for health care. This law allows Health Partners to have the state capture any income or property tax refund from those who owe them money. Health Partners has an annual revenue between $6 and $7 billion per year. They should do their own collections.
State law prohibits naming a company in statutes. However, Health Partners gained this state collection privilege by getting someone to insert specific language into a bill that only describes Health Partners/Regions Hospital. The offending words that need to be removed from this state law are: “ …, a private nonprofit hospital that leases its building from a county or city in which it is located, … .” This language only describes Health Partners.
In addition to getting these collection services at taxpayer expense, something that would cost other small and large businesses 20 to 40 percent of the debt, this money is most likely being diverted from people who are already in a desperate situation. We are in the middle of a pandemic and an economic disaster. Not only has our government failed to provide basic health care, as every other industrialized nation has, but they allow wealthy corporations to take poor and low-income people’s meager tax refunds, money needed for food and essentials.
A group I work with, Health Care Advocates, recently learned of this travesty. Through some research we learned that we could end Health Partners’ state free ride by simply removing the words describing Health Partners from the state law. We next contacted some leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate, providing them with our proposed suggested deletion of the errant language from the state statute. We found eager bipartisan support in House and Senate and are working to get chief authors and key co-authors in both houses of Congress. It is thought it will pass.
This will not prevent Health Partners from seeking the collection of any debts. They would just have to hire a collection agency like every other business in Minnesota or pursue the legal process through the courts where the situation of the debtor could be considered.
The Minnesota Revenue Recapture Act was enacted to assist the state and publicly-owned facilities in the process of debt collection, such as state, county, municipalities and public libraries. Now we find it has been cleverly subverted to provide taxpayer-funded collection services for private interests allowing them to bypass legal due process and collection costs. Health Partners is already publicly subsidized because they pay no property taxes for Regions Hospital.
Why should this matter to South Minneapolis? Health Partners is a massive health care corporation covering the entire region. Their CEO receives millions in salary. Yet our quality and availability of health care is declining. Other industrialized nations provide comprehensive health care to all, with choice of doctor, hospital and clinic, with half the costs per person of what we pay—with 30 million not covered under our system—with better health outcomes and with no open enrollment.
We should all demand real health care in America.