Assembly Bill 503 pending before the Legislature would amend California nonprofit hospitals' reporting rules, required due to their exemption from corporate income taxes.
The California Nurses Association is a proud co-sponsor of that bill and was surprised by Bruce Maiman's criticism of our role promoting it, ("State nurses group plays hardball," Viewpoints, June 17). The accusation that the nurses association distorted the dialogue could not be further from the truth and is more appropriate for Maiman's former work as a radio talk show host than the more measured, well-informed opinions readers expect to see on the Op-Ed pages of The Sacramento Bee.
We are sponsoring AB 503 because as registered nurses, we see every day the denial of health care to the poor by hospitals that receive huge tax exemptions ostensibly in exchange for providing health care to the poor.
We believe that when hospitals enjoy the privilege of tax exemptions, they should be held accountable to the charitable purpose on which the exemptions are based.
In August 2012, the California Bureau of State Audits summarized its recommendations in a fact sheet on community benefits:
"We made several recommendations to the Legislature including that it consider amending state law to include requirements about the amounts of community benefits if it intends to tie the hospitals' tax-exempt status to the amount of community benefits they provide. We also recommended that the Legislature either define a methodology in state law for calculating community benefits each hospital delivers or direct Health Planning to develop regulations that define such a methodology. Further, the Legislature should consider revising state law to allow Health Planning to assess penalties to hospitals that do not submit required community benefit plans."
Based on our own extensive review of the hospital industry's record on reporting what it provides in exchange for not paying taxes, we agree with the state auditor's recommendations.
Moreover, as "undercompensated care" affects both for-profit and nonprofit hospitals, it does not speak to the charitable mission upon which the tax exemption is based.
Thus, AB 503 would allow nonprofit hospitals to report "undercompensated care," but not to classify it as charity care.
The 85,000 members of nurses associations are legitimate stakeholders in this debate. Registered nurses are required by law to serve as patient advocates, and it is our democratic right to do that in the statehouse, as well as at the bedside.
Deborah Burger, Malinda Markowitz and Zenei Cortez are registered nurses and co-presidents of the California Nurses Association.