Poster Paper: How Do Hospitals Set Their Charity Care Policies? Evidence from Nonprofit Tax Returns

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Exhibit Hall C - Exhibit Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Rebecca M. Sachs, Harvard University

Hospitals play an important role in the social insurance system by providing free and discounted care to the uninsured. Despite the large economic cost of uncompensated care, relatively little is known about how hospitals determine the amount of free and discounted care they provide. In this paper, I study how nonprofit hospitals change their policies surrounding charity care in response to changes in local need, hospital income, and regulation/public pressure. To do so, I use data from IRS 990 tax returns for nonprofit hospitals between 2010-2015. These data provide the first opportunity to look at hospitals’ charity care policies over time and across states. A unique feature of the IRS 990 is that hospitals are required to list the federal poverty level (FPL) thresholds at which they provide free and discounted care in addition to disaggregated information about charitable expenditures. I link these outcome measures to a variety of data on changes in state regulations, public funding for low-income care, and measures of need. I find that hospitals’ charity care spending and policies significantly respond to external pressure. In contract, charity care policies do not respond to changes in community need or hospital financial status in the two years following Medicaid expansion. These results indicate that extrinsic motivation may be the driving factor behind changes in hospital charity, not altruism.