In responses to the Charlotte Observer and (Raleigh) News & Observer’s investigation on extraordinary profits at nonprofit hospitals, officials at Carolinas HealthCare System argued that they face a complex battle in providing quality health care while navigating the uncertainty of our country’s health care system.
“As we look to the future,” said CEO Michael Tarwater in an op-ed, “those of us responsible for health care delivery face a world of ‘unknown.’ “
All of which is true.
Meanwhile, Joyce Jones has a lien on her west Charlotte house.
Jones, who faced a $34,000 bill after a two-week stay at Carolinas Medical Center-Mercy, is one of many patients reporters found who faced lawsuits, collection agencies and ruined credit because they had the misfortune of needing urgent health care. Many of those patients should have qualified for free charity care at CHS or Novant Health, the Observer found. Jones, who had a bare-bones insurance policy and little money, offered to negotiate a settlement involving equity in her daughter’s home, but CHS rejected the offer.
While no single personal story can precisely portray the nuances of the regional or national health care industry, there’s an inescapable incongruence to a nonprofit hospital with more than a billion dollars in reserves suing patients for four- and five-figure hospital bills. Novant doesn’t do it, and one health expert called the suits “very old school” - and not in a favorable way.
… both CHS and Novant have sometimes strayed from their missions as nonprofit charitable organizations - a status that provides millions in tax exemptions each year. That doesn’t mean the hospitals don’t do much that is good for our region. They build unprofitable but critical facilities - such as a proposed psychiatric hospital in Huntersville - and they launch valuable public health programs to address community concerns like eating disorders and child abuse.
Do the hospitals offer charitable care? Yes. Do they try to work with patients on hospital bills? They do. But they can do more …
Yes, it’s a complicated health care world, and it will continue to be regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision on the Affordable Care Act. All of us have a part in examining what’s good for us versus what’s good for all. We hope that Tarwater’s next look is a little more inward.