Aspen Valley Hospital is asking voters this fall to continue a property tax that has helped pay operating costs for the past twenty years. As Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports, there’s no formal opposition to Question 5A, but voters are wondering when enough is enough when it comes to medical costs.
A “yes” vote on 5A means property owners with a $100,000 house would pay $12 a year. The price tag for homeowners with a $1 million property would be $120 annually. The tax generates nearly $4 million every year for Aspen Valley Hospital. Hospital board president Dr. Barry Mink says it funds things like…
"..salaries and benefits, updating equipment, education, indigent care, maintenance, utilities — that kind of thing.”
He’s quick to point out the tax money does not pay for an ongoing construction project. Right now, crews are working on a new emergency room and surgical suites as part of a multi-million dollar and multi-year project.
"The monies for that have already been allocated for the first three phases. The fourth phase will be totally dependent on philanthropy.”
Mink says the hospital’s annual budget is $60 million. Most of AVH’s revenue comes from patient care. Still, Mink says the money generated by the mill levy is significant.
"It’s something that is really critical for the hospital to function at the level it does now," he says. "If we didn’t have the mill levy, the hospital would have to make up about $15 million in revenues. That would either decrease the services we could provide, decrease the quality of the staff, and it would make it hard for us to keep the prices the same as they are now.”
Aspen Times columnist and property tax payer Roger Marolt says he already voted to support Question 5A.
"I’ve always supported the hospital and I continue to support the hospital. It’s a great cause. Our health is the most important thing we can take care of."
But he wonders just how much is too much when it comes to medical expenses, not just in terms of hospital support, but insurance, prescriptions and the like.
"At some point I think we’re all going to have to ask when is enough, enough? When do we start seeing diminishing returns on our investment in health care?”
Dr. Barry Mink agrees the rising cost of medical care isn’t sustainable. In an effort called Valley Health Alliance, he says AVH is working with local physicians and big employers to lower costs.
When it comes to 5A - if it doesn’t pass, Mink says patient costs will rise.
"It would be a critical loss for the hospital and we would have to decrease our services for sure. We would have to increase patient costs if the mill levy did not pass."