Com­mu­nity ben­e­fits ap­proach shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all

Modern Healthcare - - Comment -

The ar­ti­cle “Flaws in re­port­ing cre­ate knowl­edge vac­uum re­gard­ing com­mu­nity ben­e­fits,” part of the Dec. 3 cover story “Mar­gin vs. Mis­sion” (p. 20), fails to pro­vide a co­he­sive view of the com­mu­nity ben­e­fits pro­vided by tax­ex­empt hospi­tals and health sys­tems.

In ad­di­tion to around-the-clock ac­cess for all who come through the doors re­gard­less of abil­ity to pay, hospi­tals and health sys­tems sup­port the health of their com­mu­ni­ties in many ways and re­port an­nu­ally on the ben­e­fits they pro­vide.

No one should ex­pect that the ben­e­fits hospi­tals pro­vide will be the same for ev­ery com­mu­nity. The ge­nius of com­mu­nity ben­e­fit is that it al­lows, even en­cour­ages, hospi­tals to pro­vide ben­e­fits tai­lored to their com­mu­nity. The one-size-fits-all ap­proach sug­gested by some would be a dis­ser­vice to the pub­lic.

In 2015, hospi­tals and health sys­tems re­ported to­tal com­mu­nity ben­e­fits of 13.3% of their to­tal hos­pi­tal ex­penses. In ad­di­tion, an Ernst & Young re­port from last fall showed that tax-ex­empt hospi­tals’ and health sys­tems’ com­mu­nity ben­e­fit ac­tiv­i­ties out­weigh the value of their fed­eral tax ex­emp­tion by a fac­tor of 11 to 1. No other health­care seg­ment of­fers this level of value for the pub­lic ben­e­fit it re­ceives.

In or­der to make it a more use­ful tool for com­mu­nity mem­bers, we have asked the IRS re­peat­edly to up­date the Sched­ule H form to in­clude ser­vices that ad­dress the so­cial de­ter­mi­nants of health, such as hous­ing and job train­ing. We also op­posed the IRS’ uni­lat­eral de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate a large share of what hospi­tals spend on med­i­cal re­search from the list of com­mu­nity ben­e­fits.

As new pub­lic health chal­lenges present them­selves, hospi­tals of all kinds will con­tinue to demon­strate the value they pro­vide to their com­mu­ni­ties in a trans­par­ent man­ner and so­lid­ify their com­mit­ment to mak­ing their com­mu­ni­ties health­ier through a range of ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grams de­signed to ad­dress their com­mu­ni­ties’ needs.

Rick Pol­lack Pres­i­dent and CEO Amer­i­can Hos­pi­tal As­so­ci­a­tion

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