New IRS rules target nonprofit hospital exec pay

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/compensation-issues/new-irs-rules-target-nonprofit-hospital-exec-pay.html?utm_medium=email

Those distinctive brown signs outside federal buildings in D.C. ...

The Internal Revenue Service has issued guidance that implements a change in the 2017 tax overhaul that imposed a 21 percent excise tax on compensation paid to executives at some nonprofit organizations, according to Bloomberg Tax.

Under the 2017 law, there’s a tax on a nonprofit organization’s five highest-paid employees earning at least $1 million. The tax, paid by the organization, has been in effect since 2018, but the new guidance provides details on how to calculate employee wages and other compensation to determine if the tax applies, according to the report.

Under the proposed rule, any deferred compensation or retirement bonus not vested before the first taxable year beginning after Dec. 31, 2017, is subject to the tax, according to the American Hospital Association

The AHA urged Congress to provide an exception for existing contracts or nonqualified deferred compensation plans for tax-exempt healthcare organizations. 

Access the full Bloomberg Tax article here.

 

 

 

 

Why Are Nonprofit Hospitals So Highly Profitable?

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These institutions receive tax exemptions for community benefits that often don’t really exist.

“So, how much money do you guys make if I do that test you’re ordering for me?” This is a question I hear frequently from my patients, and it’s often followed by some variant of, “I thought hospitals were supposed to be nonprofit.”

Patients are understandably confused. They see hospitals consolidating and creating vast medical empires with sophisticated marketing campaigns and sleek digs that resemble luxury hotels. And then there was the headline-grabbing nugget from a Health Affairs study that seven of the 10 most profitable hospitals in America are nonprofit hospitals.

Hospitals fall into three financial categories. Two are easy to understand: There are fully private hospitals that mostly function like any other business, responsible to shareholders and investors. And there are public hospitals, which are owned by state or local governments and have obligations to care for underserved populations. And then there are “private nonprofit” hospitals, which include more than half of our hospitals.

Nearly all of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals are nonprofits. These are the medical meccas that come to mind when we think of the best of American medicine — Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mass General.

The nonprofit label comes from the fact that they are exempt from federal and local taxes in exchange for providing a certain amount of “community benefit.”

Nonprofit hospitals have their origins in the charity hospitals of the early 1900s, but over the last century they’ve gradually shifted from that model. Now their explosive growth has many questioning how we define “nonprofit” and what sort of responsibility these hospitals have to the communities that provide this financial dispensation.

It’s time to rethink the concept of nonprofit hospitals. Tax exemption is a gift provided by the community and should be treated as such. Hospitals’ community benefit should be defined more explicitly in terms of tangible medical benefits for local residents.

It actually isn’t much of a surprise that nonprofit hospitals are often more profitable than for-profit hospitals. If a private business doesn’t have to pay taxes, its expenses will be lower. Additionally, because nonprofit hospitals are defined as charitable institutions, they can benefit from tax-free contributions from donors and tax-free bonds for capital projects, things that for-profit hospitals cannot take advantage of.

The real question surrounding nonprofit hospitals is whether the benefits to the community equal what taxpayers donate to these hospitals in the form of tax-exempt status.

On paper, the average value of community benefits for all nonprofits about equals the value of the tax exemption, but there is tremendous variation among individual hospitals, with many falling short. There is also intense disagreement about how those community benefits are calculated and whether they actually serve the community in question.

Charity medical care is what most people think of when it comes to a community benefit, and before 1969 that was the legal requirement for hospitals to qualify for tax-exempt status. In that year, the tax code was changed to allow for a wide range of expenses to qualify as community benefits. Charitable care became optional and it was left up to the hospitals to decide how to pay back that debt. Hospitals could even declare that accepting Medicaid insurance was a community benefit and write off the difference between the Medicaid payment and their own calculations of cost.

An analysis by Politico found that since the full Affordable Care Act coverage expansion, which brought millions more paying customers into the field, revenue in the top seven nonprofit hospitals (as ranked by U.S. News & World Report) increased by 15 percent, while charity care — the most tangible aspect of community benefit — decreased by 35 percent.

Communities are often conflicted about the nonprofit hospitals in their midst. Many of these institutions are enormous employers — sometimes the largest employer in town — but the economic benefits do not always trickle down to the immediate neighborhoods. It is not unusual to see a stark contrast between these gleaming campuses and the disadvantaged neighborhoods that surround them.

In some communities, nonprofit hospitals are beloved institutions with a history of caring for generations of families. In other communities, the sums of money devoted to lavish expansions, aggressive advertising and eye-popping executive compensation are a source of irritation.

The average chief executive’s package at nonprofit hospitals is worth $3.5 million annually. (According to I.R.S. regulations, “No part of their net earnings is allowed to inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual.”) From 2005 to 2015, average chief executive compensation in nonprofit hospitals increased by 93 percent. Over that same period, pediatricians saw a 15 percent salary increase. Nurses got 3 percent.

A number of communities that think nonprofit hospitals take more than they give back have started to sue. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center fought off one lawsuit from the city’s mayor to revoke its tax-exempt status. Last year it faced another from the Pennsylvania attorney general, alleging that the medical center, valued at $20 billion, did not fulfill “its obligation as a public charity” (the lawsuit was dismissed).

Morristown Hospital in New Jersey lost most of its property-tax exemption because it was found to be behaving as a for-profit institution. The judge in the case wrote that if all nonprofit hospitals operated like this, then “modern nonprofit hospitals are essentially legal fictions.”

It’s important to recognize the extreme variance in hospitals’ financial status. Many nonprofit hospitals, especially in rural areas, struggle mightily; scores of rural hospitals have closed — and hundreds more are teetering — leading to spikes in local death rates. At the other end are hospitals that earn several thousand dollars in profit per patient.

The most profitable nonprofit hospitals tend to be part of huge health care systems. Consolidations are one of the driving forces behind the towering profits, because monopoly hospitals are known to charge more than nonmonopoly hospitals.

Should these highly profitable institutions be exempt from the taxes that pay for local roads, police services, fire protection and 911 services? Should local residents have to pay for the garbage collection for institutions that can afford multimillion-dollar salaries for top executives?

Tax exemption needs to be redefined. Low-impact projects such as community health fairs that function more like marketing shouldn’t be allowed as part of the calculation. Nor should things that primarily benefit the institution, like staff training.

Additionally, hospitals should not be allowed to declare Medicaid “losses” as a community benefit. While it’s true that Medicaid typically pays less than private insurance companies, Medicaid plays a crucial role for private insurance markets by acting as a high-risk pool for patients with severe illness and disability. Hospitals benefit mightily from this taxpayer-funded arrangement. These large medical centers also enthusiastically accept taxpayer money for research, something that burnishes their image and bolsters their rankings. That enthusiasm needs to be mandated to extend toward Medicaid patients and the face value of their insurance.

The I.R.S. states that charitable hospitals “must be organized and operated exclusively for specific tax-exempt purposes.” Thus charitable care should be front and center. Spending on social determinants of health can also be a legitimate community benefit, but the community that is footing the tax break needs to have a forceful say in how this money is spent, rather than leave it solely up to the hospital.

As many policy scholars have noted, tax exemption is a blunt instrument. For struggling hospitals, particularly in communities with a shortage of health care resources, tax exemption can make sense. In medically saturated areas, where profits and executive compensation approach Wall Street levels, tax exemption should raise eyebrows.

If society decides that tax exemption is a worthwhile means to improve health — and it certainly can be — then our regulations need to be far stricter and more explicitly tied to community health. As the United States continues to fall behind its international peers in terms of health outcomes in local communities, there is certainly no lack of opportunity.

 

 

 

What Makes A Non-Profit Hospital?

What Makes A Non-Profit Hospital?

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What are non-profit hospitals and what is the community benefit standard?

Recently, several news outlets including ProPublicaKaiser Health News, and Wall Street Journal have published stories on non-profit hospitals’ medical debt collection practices and the effects on low income patients. These news stories prompted me to take a closer look at non-profit hospitals, their tax-exempt status, the community benefits they must fulfill to qualify for it, and the impact on care.

This is the first piece of two posts that consider the requirements that non-profit hospitals need to fulfill to qualify for their tax-exempt status and the impact of these standards on non-profit hospitals and the communities they seek to serve.

Has the definition of a non-profit hospital evolved over time?

Short answer: yes.

To date, non-profit hospitals have significantly benefited from their tax-exempt status, saving $24.6 billion in taxes in 2011. Originally, hospitals were granted tax-exempt status because of affiliations with religious institutions and for serving a charitable purpose. It wasn’t necessarily related to medical care. However, in 1956, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) implemented the charity care standard requiring hospitals to offer uncompensated care to patients unable to pay in order to qualify as a charitable organization under Internal Revenue Code 501c3.

Many believed charity care would no longer be necessary after the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. Policymakers assumed the two programs would ensure insurance coverage for most people, obviating the need for a charity care standard. This wasn’t the case, and over the next decade, two events led to the elimination of the charity care standard and the introduction of its successor, the community benefit standard, in 1969.

First, the House of Representatives released a report citing concerns about the execution of the charity care standard and its effectiveness. Second, a hospital that did not provide free or discounted health care mounted a legal challenge. The hospital asserted that, because it had an emergency room open to all community members, it was already providing a charitable service and should qualify for non-profit, or 501c3, status. The courts agreed with the hospital, stating that the provision of an open-access emergency room promoted the health of the community. This fulfilled a charitable purpose according to its legal definition. Ultimately, the IRS agreed with the court’s decision and deemed it necessary to change the charity care standard to accommodate this decision.

Consequently, the IRS issued Ruling 69-545, introducing the community benefit standard. From its implementation and onwards instead of being judged solely on the provision of free or discounted care, a hospital’s 501c3 status would be based on whether it “promoted the health of a broad class of individuals in the community,” including but not limited to just providing free or discounted care.

In 2010, additional requirements were included in the community benefit standard. Non-profit hospitals are now required to perform a community health needs assessment every three years and have both an accessible Financial Assistance Policy and Emergency Medical Care Policy (a charge limit for people who qualify for financial assistance and a billings) and a collections system that determines if individuals are eligible for financial assistance prior to engaging in extraordinary collection actions (applies to all emergency and medically necessary care).

What does non-profit status mean for hospitals?

Short answer: tax-exempt with charity donations required.

Most hospitals in the United States are recognized as charitable organizations, with 78 percent qualifying for 501c3 status. This means they are exempt from most taxes and benefit from tax-deductible charity donations and tax-exempt bond financing but they must meet general Internal Revenue Code requirements, including the community benefit standard aimed at improving the health of the surrounding community.

A variety of activities qualify as community benefits. Some examples are charity care, unreimbursed costs through means-tested programs (Medicaid, Medicare, CHIP, etc.), unreimbursed health professions education, unfunded research, and cash and in-kind contributions for community benefits. Hospitals must submit IRS Form 990 Schedule H annually to demonstrate their community benefit expenditures and maintain their 501c3 designations.

Are non-profit hospitals behaving like their for-profit counterparts?

Short answer: often times, yes.

Seven of the ten most profitable hospitals in the country are non-profits. Many of these exhibit for-profit characteristics such as being part of a larger hospital system, being located in urban areas, and not having a teaching program.

But these aren’t the only features of non-profit hospitals that resemble for-profits.study conducted by the Kellogg School of Management found that non-profits regularly behaved like for-profits after financial shocks. In response to financial crises, non-profits cut back on unprofitable services to offset losses instead of increasing prices. This is not what we expect; the study authors argue that we should expect them to do the latter — forgoing financial gain by starting with lower prices with room to increase in times of financial stress. That they don’t suggests that non-profits are already maximizing profits, similar to for-profit hospitals.

While it is unusual for non-profit hospitals to experience large financial profits, it does happen. The question is whether these gains are then reinvested into the hospital’s charity care and community health and wellbeing initiatives.

How much of a non-profit hospital’s revenue goes back into care and its community?

Short answer: some.

Herring, et al. found that, on average, 7.6 percent of non-profit hospitals’ 2012 total expenses were community benefit expenditures, 3 percent were unreimbursed Medicaid costs, and about 2 percent were charity care. (These findings are consistent with past studies.)

In some cases, non-profit hospitals receive tax benefits that far outweigh their community benefit investments. For example, in fiscal year 2011-2012, the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center made approximately $1 billion in profits, spent less than $20 million on charity care, and received $200 million in tax benefits. Cases like these have increased public scrutiny on hospitals’ non-profit status and whether current 501c3 requirements go far enough to ensure that hospitals provide sufficient charity care and community benefits.

Non-profit hospitals maintain their tax exempt status through the fulfillment of the community benefits standard. In the next piece we will look at the impact of these standards on the hospitals and the communities they serve.

 

Another reality check on hospital beds

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-1a6dd9a6-5198-4abf-812f-dbf8dd8e67cb.html

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Hospital beds are not filling up like they used to, but that doesn’t mean hospitals want their beds to be empty, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

What they’re saying: Even though more patients are being treated in outpatient clinics rather than hospitals, “we’ll still be able to keep our beds pretty full,” Don Scanlon, chief financial officer at Mount Sinai Health System, said this week at an investor lunch held at Goldman Sachs headquarters in New York City.

Details: Mount Sinai, a not-for-profit hospital system based in Manhattan with $5 billion in annual revenue, is preparing to sell $475 million in bonds, and was making its pitch to bondholders about why buying that debt would be a good deal.

Between the lines: Mount Sinai’s discharges have trended down, but the hospital doesn’t want to lose the bigger dollars tied to inpatient stays. And the system wants to reassure municipal investors they will see returns.

  • As a result, Mount Sinai has invested more money in outpatient centers in other parts of New York that serve as “feeders” for its main city hospitals, Scanlon said.

The bottom line: Mount Sinai, Trinity HealthBanner Health and a host of other hospital systems have openly touted plans to boost or retain admissions even though they say they want to keep people out of the hospital. This is a fundamental disconnect between “value-based care” and the system’s financial incentives.

Go deeper: How banks and law firms make millions from hospital debt

 

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

Bruising labor battles put Kaiser Permanente’s reputation on the line

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The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

Kaiser Permanente, which just narrowly averted one massive strike, is facing another one Monday.

The ongoing labor battles have undermined the health giant’s once-golden reputation as a model of cost-effective care that caters to satisfied patients — which it calls “members” — and is exposing it to new scrutiny from politicians and health policy analysts.

As the labor disputes have played out loudly, ricocheting off the bargaining table and into the public realm, some critics believe that the nonprofit health system is becoming more like its for-profit counterparts and is no longer living up to its foundational ideals.

Compensation for CEO Bernard Tyson topped $16 million in 2017, making him the highest-paid nonprofit health system executive in the nation. The organization also is building a $900 million flagship headquarters in Oakland. And it bid up to $295 million to become the Golden State Warriors’ official health care provider, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The deal gave the health system naming rights for the shopping and restaurant complex surrounding the team’s new arena in San Francisco, which it has dubbed “Thrive City.”

The organization reported $2.5 billion in net income in 2018 and its health plan sits on about $37.6 billion in reserves.

Against that backdrop of wealth, more than 80,000 employees were poised to strike last month over salaries, retirement benefits and concerns over outsourcing and subcontracting. Nearly 4,000 members of its mental health staff in California are threatening to walk out Monday over the long wait times their patients face for appointments.

“Kaiser’s primary mission, based on their nonprofit status, is to serve a charitable mission,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. “The question is, do they need such an excessive, fancy flagship space? Or should they save money to help the poor and increase employee salaries?”

Lawmakers in California, Kaiser Permanente’s home state, recently targeted it with a new financial transparency law aimed at determining why its premiums continue to increase.

There’s a growing suspicion “that these nonprofit hospitals are not here purely for charitable missions, but instead are working to expand market share,” Bai said.

The scrutiny marks a disorienting role-reversal for Kaiser, an integrated system that acts as both health insurer and medical provider, serving 12.3 million patients and operating 39 hospitals across eight states and the District of Columbia. The bulk of its presence is in California. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Many health systems have tried to imitate its model for delivering affordable health care, which features teams of salaried doctors and health professionals who work together closely, and charges few if any extraneous patient fees. It emphasizes caring and community with slogans like “Health isn’t an industry. It’s a cause,” and “We’re all in this together. And together, we thrive.”

Praised by President Barack Obama for its efficiency and high-quality care, the health maintenance organization has tried to set itself apart from its profit-hungry, fee-for-service counterparts.

Now, its current practices — financial and medical — are getting a more critical look.

As a nonprofit, Kaiser doesn’t have to pay local property and sales taxes, state income taxes and federal corporate taxes, in exchange for providing “charity care and community benefits” — although the federal government doesn’t specify how much.

As a percentage of its total spending, Kaiser Permanente’s charity care spending has decreased from 1.29% in 2012 to 0.8% in 2017. Other hospitals in California have exhibited a similar decrease, saying there are fewer uninsured patients who need help since the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage.

CEO Tyson told California Healthline that he limits operating income to about 2% of revenue, which pays for things like capital improvements, community benefit programs and “the running of the company.”

“The idea we’re trying to maximize profit is a false premise,” he said.

The organization is different from many other health systems because of its integrated model, so comparisons are not perfect, but its operating margins were smaller and more stable than other large nonprofit hospital groups in California. AdventHealth’s operating margin was 7.15% in 2018, while Dignity Health had losses in 2016 and 2017.

Tyson said that executive compensation is a “hotspot” for any company in a labor dispute. “In no way would I try to justify it or argue against it,” he said of his salary. In addition to his generous compensation, the health plan paid 35 other executives more than $1 million each in 2017, according to its tax filings.

Even its board members are well-compensated. In 2017, 13 directors each received between $129,000 and $273,000 for what its tax filings say is five to 10 hours of work a week.

And that $37.6 billion in reserves? It’s about 17 times more than the health plan is required by the state to maintain, according to the California Department of Managed Health Care.

Kaiser Permanente said it doesn’t consider its reserves excessive because state regulations don’t account for its integrated model. These reserves represent the value of its hospitals and hundreds of medical offices in California, plus the information technology they rely on, it said.

Kaiser Permanente said its new headquarters will save at least $60 million a year in operating costs because it will bring all of its Oakland staffers under one roof. It justified the partnership with the Warriors by noting it spans 20 years and includes a community gathering space that will provide health services for both members and the public.

Kaiser has a right to defend its spending, but “it’s hard to imagine a nearly $300 million sponsorship being justifiable,” said Michael Rozier, an assistant professor at St. Louis University who studies nonprofit hospitals.

The Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West was about to strike in October before reaching an agreement with Kaiser Permanente.

Democratic presidential candidates Kamala HarrisBernie SandersElizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, as well as 132 elected California officials, supported the cause.

California legislators this year adopted a bill sponsored by SEIU California that will require the health system to report its financial data to the state by facility, as opposed to reporting aggregated data from its Northern and Southern California regions, as it currently does. This data must include expenses, revenues by payer and the reasons for premium increases.

Other hospitals already report financial data this way, but the California legislature granted Kaiser Permanente an exemption when reporting began in the 1970s because it is an integrated system. This created a financial “black hole” said state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill’s author.

“They’re the biggest game in town,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the consumer group Health Access California. “With great power comes great responsibility and a need for transparency.”

Patient care, too, is under scrutiny.

California’s Department of Managed Health Care fined the organization $4 million over mental health wait times in 2013, and in 2017 hammered out an agreement with it to hire an outside consultant to help improve access to care. The department said Kaiser Permanente has so far met all the requirements of the settlement.

But according to the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which is planning Monday’s walkout, wait times have just gotten worse.

Tyson said mental health care delivery is a national issue — “not unique to Kaiser Permanente.” He said the system is actively hiring more staff, contracting with outside providers and looking into using technology to broaden access to treatment.

At a mid-October union rally in Oakland, therapists said the health system’s billions in profits should allow it to hire more than one mental health clinician for every 3,000 members, which the union says is the current ratio.

Ann Rivello, 50, who has worked periodically at Kaiser Permanente Redwood City Medical Center since 2000, said therapists are so busy they struggle to take bathroom breaks and patients wait about two months between appointments for individual therapy.

“Just take $100 million that they’re putting into the new ‘Thrive City’ over there with the Warriors,” she said. “Why can’t they just give it to mental health?”

 

 

 

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

Charity Care Spending By Hospitals Plunges

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California hospitals are providing significantly less free and discounted care to low-income patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect.

As a proportion of their operating expenses, the state’s general acute-care hospitals spent less than half on these patients in 2017 than they did in 2013, according to data the hospitals reported to California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

The biggest decline in charity care spending occurred from 2013 to 2015, when it dropped from just over 2% to just under 1%. The spending has continued to decline, though less dramatically, since then.

The decline was true of for-profit hospitals, so-called nonprofit hospitals and those designated as city, county, district or state hospitals.

Health experts attribute the drop in charity care spending largely to the implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. The law expanded insurance coverage to millions of Californians, starting in 2014, and hospitals are now treating far fewer uninsured patients who cannot pay for the care they receive.

With fewer uninsured patients, fewer patients seek financial assistance through the charity care programs, according to the California Hospital Association.

Cori Racela, deputy director at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, countered that many people still need financial assistance because — even with insurance — they struggle to pay their premiums, copays and deductibles.

“The need for charity care has changed,” she said, “but it still exists.”

The data on charity care comes from most of the state’s general acute-care hospitals but does not include Kaiser Permanente hospitals, which are not required by the state to report their charity care totals. (Kaiser Health News, which produces California Healthline, has no affiliation with Kaiser Permanente.)

For 2017, California Healthline used data from 177 nonprofit hospitals, 80 for-profit hospitals and 54 city, county, district or state hospitals. The breakdown was similar for the other years, with slight fluctuations.

Nonprofit hospitals, whose charity care spending dropped from 2.02% of operating expenses to 0.91% over the five-year period, are required by state and federal law to provide “community benefits” in exchange for their tax-exempt status.

They can meet that requirement beyond providing free and discounted care in a variety of ways: They can offer community public health programs, write off uncollected patient debt and claim the difference between what it costs to provide care and the amount that they are reimbursed by government insurance programs.

Nonprofit “hospitals get tax-exempt status, but they don’t get it for free,” said Ge Bai, associate professor of accounting and health policy at Johns Hopkins University. Charity care “is part of the implicit contract between hospital and taxpayers.”

Bai sees the reduced spending on charity care as part of a trend of nonprofit hospitals acting more like their for-profit counterparts.

Many nonprofit hospitals “no longer consider charity care their primary mission,” she said. “They are making more and more money but they are dropping their charity care.”

The state and federal governments set no minimum requirements for charity spending by hospitals, although the California Attorney General has created standards for a few nonprofit hospitals that have changed ownership in recent years.

Jan Emerson-Shea, a spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said hospitals are giving back to their communities in ways beyond charity care.

“You see charity care declining, but Medi-Cal losses are increasing,” Emerson-Shea said. She pointed to the growing shortfalls many hospitals report from caring for more patients covered by the public insurance program. “Every Medi-Cal patient we treat we lose money on.”

Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for low-income residents, increased its rolls by 5.6 million — or about 70% — from 2013 to 2017.

Racela, of the Western Center on Law & Poverty, would like to see changes in California’s charity care rules to address high out-of-pocket costs.

And she wants hospitals to abide by the state law that requires them to inform patients that they may be eligible for charity care based on their income.

“There is still a big unmet need for charity care across the state,” Racela said.

 

 

 

Dignity Health to pay $100 million, make mandatory pension contributions in settlement

https://www.pionline.com/courts/dignity-health-pay-100-million-make-mandatory-pension-contributions-settlement

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Dignity Health, San Francisco, will pay $100 million to settle a long-running class-action lawsuit challenging its status as a church plan.

The settlement, set for final approval Aug. 1, calls for Dignity Health to contribute $50 million in 2020 and $50 million in 2021. It also requires mandatory funding contributions to the plan for five years and payment of $1.49 million to a related group of vested participants, according to motions filed June 27 with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

The settlement notice filed by the plaintiffs notes that Dignity Health has made previous voluntary contributions to the plan, including $271 million in fiscal 2018, but “has no obligation under the plan document to continue to do so,” and the impact of a merger into CommonSpirit Health on plan funding decisions is “unknown.”

Actuarial estimates provided by Dignity Health project required contributions of $162 million in 2021, $170 million in 2022, $178 million in 2023 and $187 million in 2024, according to the court filing.

The complaint in Rollins et al. vs. Dignity Health et al. was first filed in April 2013 by plaintiffs seeking more than $2 billion in missed pension contributions and other damages. Among other claims, the lawsuit challenged the interpretations made by the IRS and the Department of Labor that allowed the hospitals in the Dignity Health network, which have varying degrees of church associations, to be exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

By December 2013, the District Court had ruled that Dignity Health did not qualify for a church plan exemption from ERISA because only a church can sponsor and maintain a church plan. After various motions, that decision was affirmed in July 2016, by the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco.

In August 2016, Dignity Health asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the 9th Circuit’s decision, and the case was consolidated with two similar church plan challenges against Advocate Health Care Network and St. Peter’s Healthcare System.

The Supreme Court ruled in June 2017 that pension plans did not have to be established by a church to be exempt from ERISA, as long as they are controlled by or associated with one. Plaintiffs then filed an amended class-action complaint in November 2017 in the 9th Circuit.