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