Hospitals in Albany fit bill on charity care

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital

ALBANY, Ga. -- A recent analysis of hospital data by an Atlanta publication revealed that some not-for-profit hospitals provide less in community benefits -- specifically, charity health care for the poor -- than the tax-paying, for-profit hospitals they compete with.

This does not appear to be the case in Albany.

Georgia's not-for-profit hospitals receive millions of dollars a year in federal, state and local tax breaks. Georgia only requires hospitals to provide a minimum level of charity care when they apply for permission to expand facilities or services, and then it is only 3 percent.

In 2010, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital spent 9.6 percent of its adjusted gross revenue on indigent care. In recent years, the hospital's rate has hovered around 8 percent.

"Over the last six years, it has been 7.5 percent to 8.9 percent," said Jackie Ryan, a spokeswoman for Phoebe.

From 2006 to 2009, 28 Georgia hospitals spent less than 3 percent of adjusted gross revenue on uncompensated care. During that same time frame, Palmyra Medical Center, Albany's for-profit hospital, spent between 3.26 percent and 4.1 percent of its adjusted gross revenue on charity care.

In 2009, Palmyra paid roughly $2 million in taxes, hospital spokesman Eric Riggle said.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, adopted last year, requires not-for-profits to assess community health care needs and inform patients of their charity care policies. Across the political aisle, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, spearheaded a Senate investigation of the value of not-for-profit hospital community benefits.

The only requirement Georgia not-for-profit hospitals must meet to obtain and maintain their tax-exempt status is set by the Internal Revenue Service, not the state. The IRS requires that hospitals, like all not-for-profits, provide a "community benefit."

Uncompensated care is defined as free or discounted services for low-income patients who do not have public or private insurance or who don't have enough insurance.

Seven of the 28 Georgia hospitals in question are in the Atlanta area. Four of those, Piedmont Hospital, Emory University Hospital, Emory University Hospital Midtown and Saint Joseph's Hospital, are tax exempt.

Some Georgia hospitals, including not-for-profit Union General Hospital in Blairsville, spent less than 1 percent of adjusted gross revenue on uncompensated charity care in 2009.

Grady Memorial Hospital, a facility that has historically served low-income patients, spent 28 percent of its adjusted gross revenue on uncompensated care in 2009.

In the past, hospitals with a requirement that did not spend 3 percent would be assessed the difference for the state's Indigent Care Trust Fund. The assessment was repealed last year.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.