The Massachusetts attorney general has deferred for at least two years a set of specific targets for not-for-profit hospitals to meet in determining the value of the charitable benefits they provide to their communities.
The targets were included in a draft of community-benefits guidelines circulated in February, but they were left out of the final document released last week.
In a written statement, Attorney General Scott Harshbarger's office encouraged not-for-profits to develop a community-benefits budget in consultation with their communities and guided by a set of six principles. The office will collect community-benefits spending data until spring 1996 before making final recommendations on targets.
The draft had offered a choice of several formulas for measuring and reporting how much a hospital spends on community benefits. Examples included net value of tax-exempt benefits, or a percentage of total patient operating expenses based on hospital size (March 28, p. 22).
The guidelines offered more flexibility than hard-and-fast laws passed in states such as Texas in which a specific percentage of charity care is required. But hospital interests in Massachusetts still objected to meeting state-designated formulas.
The final guidelines still require hospitals to quantify and measure the value of community benefits, but they left the formula up to the hospital boards, said Andrew Dreyfus, spokesman for the Massachusetts Hospital Association.
The following are among the attorney general's principles to guide trustees:
The governing board should affirm and make public a community-benefits mission statement committing to a formal plan of action.
A hospital should delineate a specific community or communities to focus on, and it should involve representatives in the planning and implementation.
A plan should include a comprehensive assessment of healthcare needs in the identified community and a statement of priorities consistent with the hospital's resources.
Each hospital should submit an annual community-benefits report to the attorney general and make it available to the public.