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Hospital tax breaks target of Cook measure.

Thursday, September 06, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias


Two Cook County commissioners floated a measure Thursday that seeks to strip property tax breaks for non-profit hospitals that don’t dole out enough free medical care to county residents.

The non-binding resolution asks the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office to investigate the amount of charity care each of the county’s roughly 50 non-profit hospitals provides. It urges the office to take away tax exemptions from hospitals that fail to measure up.

County residents “have been repeatedly defrauded by these hospitals that are not providing sufficient levels of charity care,” says the resolution, which was sponsored by Commissioners William Beavers and Joseph Mario Moreno, both Chicago Democrats. The board didn’t discuss the measure before voting to send it to its finance committee.

Messrs. Beavers and Moreno assert that the county loses millions of dollars a year in undeserved tax breaks for non-profit hospitals, money that could be funneled to the county’s cash-starved health system.
  
The resolution does not specify a level of spending on free services that hospitals should be meeting — an omission at the heart of a national debate over what nonprofit hospitals must do to earn their tax-exempt status.

In a memo last week, the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, a hospital trade group, warned its members that commissioners would propose a charity care measure Thursday. The trade group derided the idea as “bad public policy” and redundant with a state law that requires hospitals to report their charitable activities to the Illinois Attorney General.

The group stressed that state law does not delineate a minimum threshold of charity care for hospitals to qualify as tax-exempt.



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