Monday, April 28, 2008

The Abuse of Nonprofit Status by some Hospitals

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today By Barbara Martinez about nonprofit hospitals. It seems that some nonprofit hospitals are demanding payment up front and refusing treatment to patients who can't pay:

When Lisa Kelly learned she had leukemia in late 2006, her doctor advised her to seek urgent care at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The Kellys arrived at M.D. Anderson with a check for $45,000 on Dec. 6, 2006. After having blood drawn and a bone-marrow biopsy, the hospital oncologist wanted to admit Mrs. Kelly right away.
But the hospital demanded an additional $60,000 on the spot. It told her the $45,000 had paid for the lab tests, and it needed the additional cash as a down payment for her actual treatment.

Once, Mrs. Kelly says she was on an exam table awaiting her doctor, when he walked in with a representative from the business office. After arguing about money, she says the representative suggested moving her to another facility.

It seems that M.D. Anderson gouged Lisa Kelly:

On one bill, Mrs. Kelly was charged $20 for a pair of latex gloves. On another itemized bill, Ms. Wallack found this: CTH SIL 2M 7FX 25CM CLAMP A4356, for $314. It turned out to be a penis clamp

When a for-profit hospital acts like this it is understandable. These hospitals are, after all, in business to make a profit. What excuse do nonprofit hospitals, which pay no taxes, have?

According to the American Hospital Directory, 77% of nonprofit hospitals are in the black, compared with 61% of for-profit hospitals. Nonprofit hospitals are exempt from taxes and are supposed to channel the income they generate back into their operations. Many have used their growing surpluses to reward their executives with rich pay packages, build new wings and accumulate large cash reserves.

Perhaps all hospitals should be required to pay taxes:

"When you have that much money in the till and that much profit, it's kind of hard to say no" to sick patients by asking for money upfront, says Uwe Reinhardt, a health-care economist at Princeton University, who thinks all hospitals should pay taxes. Nonprofit organizations "shouldn't behave this way," he says.

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