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Charity Care Hospitals Told to Put Up or Pay Up in Wake of New Report

Suffredin & Maldonado Renew Push for More Charity Care After County Assessor Reports $241 Million in Property Tax Breaks for Non-Profit Hospitals

CHICAGO, Nov. 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Joined by union leaders, Cook County Commissioners Larry Suffredin and Roberto Maldonado on Thursday said the State and County should require local non-profit hospitals to either pay property taxes or justify their tax exemptions by providing more charity care to bolster the ailing public health system.

Suffredin and Maldonado's comments came after Cook County Assessor James Houlihan issued an analysis Tuesday finding that the county's private non-profit hospitals collectively benefit from $241 million in annual property tax exemptions, despite escalating criticism that they have failed to support a regional healthcare system and public hospitals with adequate levels of treatment for the poor and uninsured.

"At a time when the County can't afford to adequately fund its health care system, we shouldn't waive tax payments from private hospitals that are not providing enough care for the poor and uninsured," said Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (13th District). "This report demonstrates why the County should require these hospitals to provide adequate charity care to justify their tax exemption. I look forward to working with the state legislature, the Attorney General of Illinois, and other Commissioners to clarify the law on charity care and to coordinate health care services provided by these hospitals on a Countywide basis."

Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, Chief Sponsor of the Resolution calling for the report, stressed that it underscores the fact that the uninsured and underinsured are the biggest losers in this public-private partnership. "If these hospitals are advertising themselves as 'non-profits with a charitable mission' then they need to provide their fair share of health care to the poor. How can Cook County taxpayers subsidize these hospitals at a cost of $241 million while our own public health system is bursting at the seams? It is time to bring these hospitals back on the tax rolls by establishing a Medical TIF District which would expand funding to our County's public health system and redistribute the property tax subsidies among those hospitals who are truly committed to providing health care for the poor."

This first analysis of property tax exemptions granted to non-profit hospitals, comes as the county threatens to increase a variety of taxes to plug chronic funding shortages in its embattled health care system.

Under State law, non-profit hospitals are absolved of their property tax obligations in exchange for providing "charity care" for the poor. But public records indicate that the County's non-profit hospitals return only a fraction of their tax exemptions in the form of charity care.

That disparity is most pronounced among the region's largest non-profit hospitals where charity care disbursements represent a miniscule share of total revenues. For instance, charity care levels at Advocate Health Care, the state's largest non-profit hospital system, are equivalent to only 1.1 percent of the company's total income, according to documents filed with the Illinois Attorney General's Office.

"The largest non-profit hospitals, which can afford to give the most charity care, are doing the least to earn their tax breaks," said Byron Hobbs, President of the Service Employees International Union Local 20 which represents a large number of County health care workers. "When these hospitals shun their charity care obligations, they inflict pain not only on patients who are deprived urgently needed care, but also on taxpayers, who are denied an equal return on their money."

Calling the charity care debate a "polarizing issue," Houlihan in a letter to the County Board, stresses that the "real issue at hand [is] what is the most effective, constitutional, and appropriate method to incentivize a public-private partnership that creates a real and seamless delivery of health care services in Cook County to those most in need."

SOURCE Service Employees International Union Local 20
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