Many not-for-profit hospitals don't provide enough charity care to offset the value of their tax-exempt benefits, witnesses told the House Ways and Mean Committee. Nancy Kane, a professor at Harvard School of Public Health, said according to her research, many hospitals avoid providing charity care but bill and aggressively attempt to collect from patients who can't afford to pay. David Walker, comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, said a study of five states showed that government hospitals "devote substantially larger shares of their patient operating expenses to uncompensated care than nonprofit and for-profit hospitals." And Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Mark Everson said it had become "increasingly difficult to differentiate for-profit from not-for-profit healthcare providers" or to determine when providers are acting as investors rather than stewards of charitable assets.
The Ways and Means hearing, part of an examination of charitable organizations, focused on tax-exempt hospitals and fair-pricing practices. Stan Jenkins, chairman of an Illinois county review board that in 2003 challenged a local hospital's tax-exempt status, said Congress should set a national standard for hospital prices to prevent uninsured patients from being charged exorbitant rates. The committee plans to hold hearings on charitable organizations throughout the year, addressing support of terrorism by tax-exempt organizations and misuse of taxpayer dollars, among other topics. -- by Ralph Loos