Nonprofit Hospitals: Variation in Standards and Guidance Limits Comparison of How Hospitals Meet Community Benefit Requirements

GAO-08-880 Published: Sep 12, 2008. Publicly Released: Oct 14, 2008.
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Nonprofit hospitals qualify for federal tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) if they meet certain requirements. Since 1969, IRS has not specified that these hospitals have to provide charity care to meet these requirements, so long as they engage in activities that benefit the community. Many of these activities are intended to benefit the approximately 47 million uninsured individuals in the United States who need financial and other help to obtain medical care. Previous studies indicated that nonprofit hospitals may not be defining community benefit in a consistent and transparent manner that would enable policymakers to hold them accountable for providing benefits commensurate with their tax-exempt status. GAO was asked to examine (1) IRS's community benefit standard and the states' requirements, (2) guidelines nonprofit hospitals use to define the components of community benefit, and (3) guidelines nonprofit hospitals use to measure and report the components of community benefit. To address these objectives, GAO analyzed federal and state laws; the standards and guidance from federal agencies and industry groups; and 2006 data from California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas. GAO also interviewed federal and state officials, and industry group representatives. IRS stated that the report in general was accurate, but noted several concerns regarding the description of the community benefit standard. CMS did not have any comments.

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