Donna M. Christensen – In Illinois, the term ‘nonprofit hospital’ is an oxymoron

By Consumers for Quality Care, on December 5, 2023

Donna M. Christensen – In Illinois, the term ‘nonprofit hospital’ is an oxymoron

Re: “Northwestern, UChicago tax breaks under scrutiny in new report” (Aug. 14): Nonprofit hospitals deserve more scrutiny than they tend to receive. As nonprofits, these hospitals are exempt from paying most taxes, but in exchange for this exemption, they are expected to provide community benefits and charity care to patients in need. Unfortunately, however, many nonprofit hospitals are failing to keep their end of the bargain. These hospitals operate less like charitable organizations and more like big businesses hungry for profit.

This is a growing problem nationwide, including here in Illinois. The Lown Institute found that Illinois’ nonprofit hospitals had a “fair share deficit” of $1.244 billion. That is, Illinois nonprofit hospitals received, in aggregate, $1.244 billion more in tax breaks than what they spent on charity care for low-income patients.

But that’s not all. Researchers also found that most Illinois nonprofit hospitals are hiding their prices. Earlier this year, surveyed 2,000 hospitals nationwide, trying to determine how many were complying with federal price transparency rules. In Illinois, they found that 12 out of 38 hospitals reviewed — just 32% — were in full compliance. The rest were, to varying degrees, less than straightforward with their patients about the cost of care.

For patients, these practices have serious consequences, including big unexpected medical bills, which become debt. That’s why Consumers for Quality Care gave Illinois a failing grade in our recently released nonprofit hospital scorecard for the state. Nonprofit hospitals should put their patients first, before their bottom lines, and be held accountable whenever they fail to do so.

Read the full article in the Crain’s Chicago Business here.