Charity Care Characteristics and Expenditures Among US Tax-Exempt Hospitals in 2016

Am J Public Health. 2020 Apr;110(4):492-498. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2019.305522. Epub 2020 Feb 20.


Objectives. To examine content of financial assistance polices (FAPs) among US tax-exempt hospitals and determine whether restrictive policies were associated with reduced charity care spending.Methods. Using hospital tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service in 2016 and FAPs obtained from hospital Web sites, we examined characteristics of FAPs and associated expenditures for charity care in a representative sample of 170 tax-exempt hospitals. We identified common eligibility requirements and used them to define restrictiveness of FAPs.Results. FAPs were characterized by various ways to exclude patients, a patchwork of coverage for typical health care services, and wide-ranging discounts. FAP expenditures were lowest among restrictive hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act and highest among nonrestrictive hospitals in nonexpansion states. FAP expenses did not differ by hospital restrictiveness alone.Conclusions. Standardizing common eligibility requirements among FAPs carries potential benefits with regard to optimizing charity care for community benefit and achieving at least some level of equity; however, further policy efforts must account for additional restrictions, charges, and exclusions to be effective.

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals, Public / economics*
  • Hospitals, Public / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, Voluntary / economics*
  • Hospitals, Voluntary / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
  • Policy
  • Poverty / economics
  • Tax Exemption
  • Uncompensated Care / economics*
  • Uncompensated Care / statistics & numerical data
  • United States