Nonprofit hospitals are expected to serve their communities as charitable organizations in exchange for the tax exemption benefits they receive. With the passage into law of the Affordable Care Act, additional guidelines were generated in 2010 to ensure nonprofit hospitals are compliant. Nonetheless, the debate continues on whether nonprofit hospitals provide adequate charity care to their patient population.
In this study, charity care provided by 29 Washington State nonprofit urban hospitals was examined for 2011 using financial data from the Washington State Department of Health. Charity care levels were compared to both income tax savings and gross revenues to generate two financial ratios that were analyzed according to hospital bed size and nonprofit ownership type. For the first ratio, 97% of the hospitals (28 of 29) were providing charity care in greater amounts than the tax savings they accrued. The average ratio value using total charity care and total income tax savings of all the hospitals in the study was 6.10, and the median value was 3.46.
The nonparametric Kruskal-Wallis test results by bed size and nonprofit ownership type indicate that ownership type has a significant effect on charity care to gross revenue ratios (p = .020). Our analysis indicates that church-owned hospitals had higher ratios of charity care to gross revenues than did the other two ownership types—government and voluntary—in this sample.
Policy implications are offered and further studies are recommended to analyze appropriate levels of charity care in nonprofit hospitals given new requirements for maintaining a hospital's tax-exempt status.