Not-for-profit financial successes raise questions

According to a December 2006 Congressional Budget Office report, U.S. not-for-profit hospitals get $12.6 billion in tax exemptions and $32 billion in federal, state and local subsidies. That's a pretty sizable chunk of change, though perfectly acceptable if the hospitals use these moneys to fulfill their charitable mission. The problem is, critics increasingly are saying it's too good--and contending that some of the hospitals seem to be spending less on charity care than they're taking in in benefits. Of late, perhaps the most vocal and visible critic has been Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who has been on a mission for years to force not-for-profits to account for themselves. He may yet succeed in his campaign to force not-for-profits to pay at least 5 percent of annual patient operating expenses or revenues to charity care.

Of course, some not-for-profits are struggling terribly, particularly those in inner cities that take in a large number of uninsured patients. However, critics are drawn to some of the more successful not-for-profit hospitals, which are raking in revenue at a rate that beats even their for-profit rivals. According to data from the American Hospital Directory, 77 percent of the 2,033 not-for-profit hospitals in the U.S. come out ahead financially, as opposed to 61 percent of for-profits. Meanwhile, according to data from the AHD, the combined net income of the 50 largest not-for-profit hospitals in the U.S. went up by a factor of 8 from 2001 to 2006, hitting $4.27 billion.

Certainly, as such hospitals begin to roll out their first Schedule Hs for Form 990, critics will at least have a better idea of where the money is going, and that will hopefully defuse some bad feelings. But in the mean time, it seems not-for-profit hospitals will have a lot of explaining to do if they're coming up with an excess income regularly. Better that than more regulations, right?

To learn more about this trend:
- read this Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report item

Related Articles:
Feds to crank up not-for-profit charity demands. Charity care report
AHA makes headway on community benefit reporting. Community benefit report
IRS to investigate nonprofit hospitals. IRS report
VHA: Charity policy must come from the top. VHA report