Carle doctors have always done the right thing for me and my family. I like my Carle doctors, and I like the care we get there. And, like other Carle patients, I pay Carle a heckuva lotta money for it.
But apparently, that’s not enough for Carle. They also want the property taxes I have already paid to several local taxing bodies, such as Champaign County, Parkland College, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District and the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, for which I serve as Commissioner.
Yes, for Carle, the taxpayers giveth and Carle taketh for themselves.
In case you missed it, Carle Hospital intends to take taxpayer dollars away from several entities of local government and keep it for themselves. The total: $6,240,491. This includes Carle taking 2 and half million dollars from the City of Urbana, and almost one and a half million dollars from Champaign County. Carle is taking $967,000 from Parkland College, and Cunningham Township has to hand over $367,000. And in an irony not lost on me, Carle Hospital is taking over $208,000 from the Champaign County Public Health District, whose mission it is to keep the population healthy and, if they are successful, reducing the need to visit hospitals such as Carle.
Finally, not to be left out, Carle is even taking money from the Forest Preserve District (of which I am a member of the Board), one of the smaller taxing bodies in the county, to the tune of $156,913.
This is not the Forest Preserve District’s money, by the way. This is your money; well, our money — mine too. That’s right, money you have already paid in the form of county property taxes now gets handed over to Carle because, according to Champaign County Judge Randy Rosenbaum, Carle wrongly had to pay taxes between 2005 and 2011.
I’m not sure about you, but I paid my fair share of taxes during those years, but without an army of attorneys at my disposal and an obscure tax code that permits for-profit entities like hospitals to create “not-for-profit” foundations, I certainly won’t be getting any back.
I also wonder how much of these taxpayer dollars are going straight into the pockets of the army of Carle Attorneys who had to fight for their “right” to get these taxes back? How much of what these attorneys have been paid could have been, say, donated to local charities to demonstrate Carle’s charitable intentions, rather than filing a lawsuit and heading to the local courthouse for a refund?
So now I, as an appointed Board Member of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, have to review our budget, decide what cuts to local services, projects or staff lines we are going to make, and cut a check and hand it over to one of the top 10 most profitable hospitals in the country (not just in Illinois!) because it’s apparently a “non-profit”, according to Judge Rosenbaum’s interpretation of the esoteric, confusing and byzantine nature of non-profit tax law.
Maybe Rosenbaum missed an article in the News-Gazette from May of 2016 entitled: “Study: Carle among 10 most profitable hospitals.” This article cites a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Washington and Lee University. Using Medicare cost reports, the study found 55 percent of the hospitals in the U.S. lost money on patient care. In contrast, they showed that all 10 wealthiest hospitals — seven of them non-profit hospitals, including Carle — made profits in excess of $163 million on patient care services in 2013. Urbana’s Carle Hospital earned profits of $163.5 million; this means that they cleared $2,080 in pure profits for every Carle patient, according to the study.
Given this, the obvious question is: why can Carle claim to be a “not-for-profit” hospital? First of all, Carle is actually organized as two hospitals: Carle Hospital and Carle “Foundation” Hospital, and the “Foundation” Hospital is the non-profit. However, to anyone receiving care there, this distinction is completely ambiguous since Carle never distinguishes the two during a visit except on your byzantine and confusing hospital bill which includes charges to both “Carle Hospital” and “Carle Foundation Hospital”. So this ends up being a distinction without a difference.
But in any case, how can Carle Foundation Hospital be a non-profit? The non-profit status of hospitals is based on the notion of public benefit. Theoretically, a hospital must provide in “community benefit” the amount of money they would have paid to their local governments in taxes. On paper, they often do, apparently. Up until 1969, community benefit meant actual charity care, but the tax code changed in that year to allow a wide range of expenses to qualify as “community benefit”.
But according to a recent opinion piece in the February 20 New York Times, “There is also intense disagreement about how those community benefits are calculated and whether they actually serve the community.” So now the courts and both sides send in the high-priced lawyers.
One way hospitals such as Carle claim to meet this need is by accepting Medicaid, which the government pays to hospitals to care for those who can’t afford it. But since Medicaid won’t pay the exorbitant prices Carle charges, Carle gets to “write-off” the difference as a “loss” constituting “charity care”. Nice move, Carle: Jack up what you charge as much as you like over the Medicaid reimbursable rate and call this “loss” (that you were never going to make anyway) your donation to charity!
In addition, “charity care” includes the eventual forgiveness of medical debt charged to patients who can’t afford to pay but don’t qualify for Medicaid — after extensive and repeated collection efforts including threats to turn to collection agencies and wreck patients’ credit. This hardly seems like a charitable community benefit.
We also should look at the other side of the equation: What does Carle benefit from our community?
In fact Carle is no different than any other taxpaying business in town that does have to pay their fair share in local taxes. They benefit from the city and county maintaining the roads their employees and their customers — sorry, patients — use to get to and from their facilities, they benefit from local police and fire protection not to mention 911 services provided by the county that mean that patients can arrive at their hospital before they end up dead.
Carle (which is taking $967,000 from Parkland College) benefits directly from Parkland’s nursing program, which provides a small army of trained professional nurses and medical technicians through the programs they offer. Carle benefits from the Public Health District in keeping our community healthy. And finally, Carle benefits from the facilities provided by our Forest Preserve District by providing places where their employees and patients can connect with nature, reduce stress and improve their health.
If Carle, like most other businesses in town presumably do, recognized the tremendous benefits they receive from the various government entities in town, maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to greedily sue those entities so they don’t have to pay for them.
As a matter of fact, after I, as Commissioner on the Forest Preserve District, reluctantly and in protest, authorize the District to write them a $156,913 check, I would like to suggest that Carle do the right thing and turn around and make a charitable donation of $156,913 to the Champaign County Forest Preserve Friends Foundation. Such a donation would contribute to making Champaign County a healthier place for all, which is in all of our interest. As a matter of fact, Carle should make a grand gesture and donate all of this money back to the taxing bodies they are robbing it from in recognition of their benefit from our community.
How about it Carle: Are you going to do the right thing for Champaign County taxpayers, or what?
Note: This column reflects the opinion of the writer only and not necessarily the opinion of other Forest Preserve District Commissioners or the Champaign County Forest Preserve District.
Comments? Affirmative response from Carle? Email Scott at email@example.com