All nonprofit organizations have to fill out a federal tax form called a 990. It’s the same for Georgia’s nonprofit hospitals.
The form provides the public information on lots of things: how much money a nonprofit’s top employees make, how much money the organization brings in each year.
Health care organizations use the forms to outline how they benefit their communities.
Starting Oct. 1, the form will be one of many posted to the front page of hospitals’ websites. Hospitals will also have to list information such as what properties they own.
That’s thanks to a law passed earlier this year aimed at bringing more transparency to hospitals’ operations.
But hospitals still have questions about the new law. It’s also not clear what it will mean for patients.
“This is nothing new to most of us. You know, most of us are pretty used to it,” says Monty Veazey with the Georgia Alliance of Community Hospitals.
He says GACH members are used to compiling and publishing some of that information, but not every hospital is likely to already have all the required information at hand.
There’s another complication. The state agency that regulates hospitals, the Georgia Department of Community Health, hasn’t set the rules for exactly how the information is supposed to be displayed.
“Rules and regulations are currently being drafted,” said DCH Commissioner Frank Barry in a written statement. “It is expected that hospitals should be prepared to comply with the statute which becomes effective October 1.”
So, Veazey says GACH members are working to meet that deadline the best they can.
The group sent a letter to DCH over the summer laying out just how its hospitals are planning to post all the required information. Veazey says GACH never received an official response from the agency.
“We have submitted what we feel like is a fair interpretation of the law, and we’re going to file based on that,” Veazey said.
It’s the same for members of the Georgia Hospital Association, says Ethan James, the group’s vice president of government affairs.
“We just want to make sure that we get it right, and it doesn’t present any additional burden — especially financial burden — on these hospitals,” he said.
James worries it won’t be cheap for hospitals to meet the new reporting requirements. He says big hospitals have to compile lots of data.
Laura Harker, with Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, says that the new law could be a problem for small hospitals, too — especially for rural ones in financial distress.
She also says detailed data about hospital finances isn’t all that helpful to patients.
“It doesn’t necessarily show the consumer any information that is really useful in their direct care,” she said.
Still, Harker says there could be some value in the effort.
Nonprofit hospitals in Georgia are largely tax exempt. Making their ledgers more visible makes it easier to see if those tax breaks really help hospitals help patients.