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Hospitals would pay up to $241 million: report

Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Crain's Chicago Business
by Mike Colias

(Crain’s) — Cook County’s private non-profit hospitals would be on the hook for up to $241 million total in annual property taxes if stripped of their tax-exempt status, according to a county assessor’s report released Tuesday.
Assessor James Houlihan pegs the assessed value of those 54 hospitals at $4.3 billion to $4.5 billion. Valuations for individual hospitals, though calculated, were not released.
The county board last year requested Mr. Houlihan’s review of hospital property values amid a growing debate in Illinois and nationally over whether hospitals are providing enough free or discounted medical care to justify the generous tax breaks they receive.
While presenting the report at Tuesday’s board meeting, Mr. Houlihan said it “does not answer the question of whether hospitals should be tax-exempt,” an issue he calls “polarizing.” Commissioners didn’t discuss the findings after his brief presentation.
Even so, Mr. Houlihan’s report is likely to strike a nerve with the hospital industry. It has been fending off Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s efforts to force hospitals to provide a minimum level of charity care in exchange for their tax exemptions.
Two hospital lobbying groups — the Illinois Hospital Assn. and Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council — quickly dismissed the report as flawed, claiming it is based on "incorrect assumptions and incomplete data."
"We are confident that the efforts of the hospitals more than justify their tax-exempt status," said Scott Ziomek, the council's director of government affairs.
Some county commissioners have intimated that an infusion of revenue from hospital taxes could help subsidize the county’s cash-strapped health system. Or, at the least, the threat of taxation could pressure hospitals to provide more free medical care to alleviate pressure on county services. ( Crain’s, Oct. 9, 2006)
Whether the county can force hospitals onto the tax rolls could hinge on the outcome of a court case involving Provena Covenant Medical Center in Urbana. The downstate hospital was stripped of its tax-exempt status in 2003 by Champaign County, a ruling the state’s Department of Revenue upheld.
A circuit court judge in July sided with Provena in overturning the state’s ruling. Ms. Madigan’s appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court for the Fourth District is pending.
“If the county was to challenge (hospital tax exemptions), they’d be taking something of a gamble because it’s largely in the court’s hands,” said Gerald Griffith, a Chicago health care attorney for law firm Jones Day.
Hospital property values in Mr. Houlihan’s report varied widely, from $44,686 to $983,577 per hospital bed.



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