State’s nonprofit hospitals ignoring duty to charity care

The “big business”-like behavior of nonprofit hospitals doesn’t get enough attention in Washington state.

Nonprofit hospitals are exempt from paying most taxes. In exchange, they are supposed to provide community benefits and charity care to those in need. IRS rules, for example, require nonprofit hospitals to offer financial assistance programs to patients, and Washington state law requires them to provide free care to anyone making under 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Yet studies show that many of these institutions here in Washington are not living up to their end of the bargain and prioritizing profits over patients.

In fact, Consumers for Quality Care recently released a Washington Nonprofit Hospital Scorecard. The results are alarming.

One Washington-based nonprofit hospital system, Providence, billed low-income patients that never should have been charged, then went after them with debt collectors when they couldn’t pay. That same hospital system accumulated what is known as a “fair share deficit” of $705 million. In other words, Providence pocketed $705 million more in tax breaks than what it spent on charity care or community benefits. That’s $705 million that should have been spent on health care for those who can’t afford it.

Thankfully, the state Legislature seems to be focused on lowering health care costs in our state. To that end they should take a close look at the practices of Washington’s nonprofit hospitals. These institutions should be a part of the solution, not a major contributor to the problem.

Dr. Donna Christensen

Consumers for Quality Care

Washington, D.C.

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