Health care is one market where consumers are perpetually at a disadvantage and are consistently denied the fundamental options and choices that are available in other consumer-driven industries.
While there are many different causes for this lack of consumer control, one major factor is the absence of straightforward and clear information. For health care consumers, details on the most basic information – such as pricing and financial assistance eligibility – are scarce.
The majority of hospitals in the state are tax-exempt organizations, and are obligated to their communities to provide some level of financial assistance, either through their participation in Medicaid and/or their offering of financial assistance to needy patients. The latter is generally referred to as “community benefits” and include charity and indigent care.
In return, these facilities are typically subsidized by state and local governments. For example, tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals do not pay most taxes, including sales, income and property. Because of this, tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals do not contribute to vital local infrastructure, such as road and sewer maintenance, or firefighter and police forces, even though they utilize these services.
But, some hospitals participate in practices that are questionable in regards to proper stewardship of our foregone tax dollars, such as maintaining large reserves of cash and paying its executives wages that are similar to that of Fortune 500 companies while charging self-pay/uninsured patients significantly inflated charges that often puts care out of reach.
For example, many tax-exempt nonprofit hospitals in Georgia charge uninsured patients a significantly higher cost for services than average payments received from most third party payers, such as private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. While most hospitals offer financial assistance, some do not alert patients to the availability of this assistance. In addition, many hospitals employ aggressive collection tactics when a patient bill.
All hospitals are unique – some are leaders in community betterment while others are underperformers in regards to financial programs for indigent and nearly poor patients. As a consumer advocacy group, we feel it is our role to examine the financial practices of hospitals, especially facilities who act as a ‘safety net’ in their communities, in order to provide clear and transparent information for our state’s healthcare consumers.
Because of this, in 2007, Georgia Watch began authoring an ongoing series of reports that examine the finances and community offerings of hospitals in the state. The research and analysis is based on figures reported by the hospital to the IRS, the US Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, and other publicly available sources.
Hospitals are already examined are: