Catholic hospitals spend less than average on charity care

A new report conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and a consumer advocacy group claims that Catholic hospitals spend less of their net patient revenue on charity care and treat fewer poor patients than some other not-for-profit hospitals.

The report, issued earlier this week by the ACLU and MergerWatch, claims that Catholic-affiliated hospitals spent $7 billion on charity care in 2011, or 2.8 percent of their patient revenue. That's compared to 2.9 percent spent by other religious-affiliated non-profit hospitals. Secular non-profit hospitals spent 2.6 percent of its revenue on charity care, while public hospitals spent 5.6 percent of revenue on charity care.

The report also noted that Catholic-affiliated hospitals' revenue from the Medicaid program comprised 13.4 percent of total gross patient revenue. That's compared to the average of 14.9 percent for the entire U.S. hospital sector, including 14.7 percent for for-profit hospitals and 18.4 percent for public hospitals. The report said Medicaid revenues were a reflection of "measure of service to the poor."

Hospital ownership by Catholic-affiliated healthcare systems increased from 329 facilities in 2001 to 381 in 2011, with the number of beds under Catholic control rising by nearly 10,000 during the same time period. The report noted that Catholic-affiliated hospitals and systems began to merge and consolidate in the mid-1990s in order to gain more market leverage with insurers.

"In short, our report reveals how Catholic hospitals have left far behind their humble beginnings as facilities established by religious orders to serve the faithful and the poor," said Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch and co-author of the report, in a statement. "These facilities have organized into large systems that are aggressively expanding to capture greater market share, while relying on public funding and using religious doctrine to compromise women's health."

Catholic-affiliated hospitals and their governance have increasingly butted heads with state and federal regulators over accusations that they systematically constrain access to abortions, contraception and other reproductive health services.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)
- here's the statement