Nonprofit hospitals are in the spotlight due to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ recent push for more charity care. The Vermont senator, who is known for his advocacy for healthcare reform, recently urged nonprofit hospitals to provide free or discounted care for low-income patients.
Nonprofit hospitals are tax exempt due to their mission to serve their community. Despite their tax-free status, these hospitals do not always provide charity health care. In 2019, a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office showed that nonprofit hospitals receive more than $24 billion annually from Medicare and Medicaid. Of this amount, only about three percent ($695 million) is spent on free or reduced-price care.
Sanders, a long-time proponent of universal healthcare, said nonprofit hospitals should use their financial resources to provide free or reduced-price care to those who need it. He recognizes that there are growing healthcare disparities in the U.S. and believes that nonprofit hospitals should be part of the solution.
The American Hospital Association (AHA), which represents nonprofit hospitals, has responded to Sanders’ push by noting that hospitals have provided an estimated $38.5 billion in free or reduced-price care in 2019. The AHA also notes that hospitals often provide free care to uninsured patients as part of their “community benefit” to the public.
Regardless of whether or not nonprofits are providing enough charity care, Sanders’ push has sparked a debate about how much charities should be providing. Some have argued that charities should focus more on serving the needs of their own communities, while others argue that charities should focus on improving access to care nationwide.
As our country grapples with rising healthcare costs, Sanders’ plan to provide more charity care is an important step in ensuring that Americans have access to quality care. However, it is clear that nonprofits must do more to improve access to care for all Americans.