Oklahoma has no community benefit requirements in exchange for exempting nonprofit hospitals from income and property taxes.
In 2009, a congressional committee estimated the total value of tax breaks given to tax-exempt hospitals at $6 billion a year. Other estimates have ranged up to $12 billion.
A bipartisan U.S. Senate proposal to require hospitals to provide a minimum level of annual charity care in 2009 was shelved after stiff opposition from the American Hospital Association.
Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis has sponsored legislation in that state to increase transparency in reporting charity care.
“Nonprofit hospitals enjoy millions in state and local tax breaks,” Ellis said in an email. “The majority of nonprofit hospitals are good actors and provide charity care for those who need it, but a state shouldn’t continue to provide tax exemptions for hospitals that neglect the needs of their community when they have the resources to provide care for those who need it most.”
The study by Oklahoma Watch and the World show wide variation among the state’s hospitals when it comes to charity care. At least 40 nonprofit and government-owned hospitals reported spending less than 1 percent of net patient revenues on charity care.
For-profit hospitals reported spending 1.1 percent on average on charity care while hospitals owned by cities, counties and other government entities spent 1.7 percent on average. On the other end of the spectrum, the University of Oklahoma’s and Oklahoma State University’s teaching hospitals spent a combined average of 8.5 percent last year on charity care.
Ed Matthews, OSU Medical Center’s chief financial officer, said in addition to the hospital’s charity care, the university’s medical school provides care for the poor through various clinics. The hospital’s programs include a “fast track” emergency room to provide more efficient service to patients with more minor ailments and few health care options.