How Should Nonprofit Hospitals' Community Benefit Be More Responsive to Health Disparities?
AMA Journal of Ethics, March 2019
In 1956, the Internal Revenue Service created the expectation that nonprofit hospitals would offer uncompensated care for those unable to pay; this was the beginning of Community Benefit (CB). CB efforts tend to prioritize inpatient medical care over developing community-based health improvements, and few CB resources are directed toward responding to health disparities. Changes to federal policy should address these concerns by (1) requiring community partners' involvement in CB implementation strategies, (2) requiring that community health needs assessments (CHNAs) be completed every 5 years instead of every 3 years, (3) changing the Internal Revenue Code to recognize organizations' work on social determinants as CB, and (4) requiring CHNAs to describe a community's health disparities and clarify how their implementation strategies address them. These changes would likely promote hospitals' engagement with public health departments, collaboration with community-based nonprofit organizations, and greater focus on health equity.
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