SHOULD CHARITY HOSPITALS BE CHARITABLE?

As Lily Tomlin says, "No matter how cynical you get, it's almost impossible to keep up."

As Lily Tomlin says, “No matter how cynical you get, it’s almost impossible to keep up.”

The truth of Tomlin’s observation struck me when I read that lobbyists for America’s charity hospitals are campaigning to kill reform legislation that would require charity-care hospitals to provide – get this – charity care. I sat there blinking for a while, thinking: you mean they don’t?

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As it turns out, no. Although they’re called “charity hospitals,” and although they are tax-exempt and they get some six-billon dollars a year worth of special tax breaks on the grounds that they provide free health care for low-income folks – they either don’t, or provide very-little. In fact, it’s hard today to tell the difference between these non-profit entities and your run-of-the-mill for-profit hospital chains. The charitable outfits often turn away the poor from the hospital doors, and when they do provide treatment, they’re likely to use nasty, bullying tactics to try to collect money from the poor.

They’ve gotten away with this by claiming that they meet the charitable standard by holding some health fairs, offering occasional screening days for cholesterol, and doing medical research. A bipartisan proposal in Congress, however, says that tax-exempt hospitals could no longer refuse service to charity cases, and the bill also would rein in the hospital roughhouse bill collectors. In other words, this reform provision would require the non-profits to put the “charity” back in charity care – or lose their tax exemption.

Hospital lobbyists are squealing like stuck pigs. They recently sent an astonishingly-cynical call for charity hospital executives to “oppose charity care.” To help battle this greed, join the email campaign by Community Catalyst. Contact the group by email at charitycarehelp@communitycatalyst.org – or call 617-275-2896.

“Hospital Mobilizing to Fight Proposed Charity Care Rules,” The New York Times, June 1, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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