House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), who led the House-Senate panel that wrote the Medicare reform law, said he plans to open a "broad examination" of the 501(c) tax status given to hospitals and other not-for-profit organizations. The committee will ask "to what extent are the (not-for-profits) exactly duplicating for-profit behaviors?" Thomas said during a speech at a Federation of American Hospitals meeting. Removing not-for-profit status from organizations that behave similarly to for-profits represents "an enormous area of potential revenue" for the federal government, Thomas said. He declined to give a timeline for the examination but said HHS and the House Energy and Commerce Committee also have been looking into the topic.
Thomas also said the American Hospital Association didn't do "the smartest thing (it) could have done" in questioning HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson about whether federal law allows hospitals to provide discounts to uninsured patients. Thomas said the AHA letter to Thompson was "a little scary because the (AHA's) argument was 'we don't know what to do.' " He later told reporters that the letter was a "clear copout." An AHA spokesman said association officials did not attend the federation meeting, and he declined to respond to Thomas' comments until a transcript of the speech could be reviewed. -- by Jeff Tieman