Activists say property tax for hospitals sends message on accountability

August 17, 2011

A coalition of activist groups in Illinois say they support the state's decision to deny tax exemptions for three non-profit hospitals.

The Illinois Department of Revenue ruled yesterday that Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital in Chicago, Edward Hospital in Naperville and Decatur Memorial Hospital in Decatur weren't meeting charity care levels required for property tax exemptions

Hannah Gelder, spokeswoman for the Fair Care Coalition, said it's not that activists wants hospitals in Illinois to lose money, they want hospitals to be held accountable.

"We don't have an opinion one way or another--we want to protect our hospitals so we believe it's okay for them to get property tax breaks, so long as they're acting as a charitable institution," Gelder said. "The problem we see in our communities is that many of the hospitals aren't actually pulling their weight in terms of providing free and reduced price care to people who are uninsured."

All three hospitals have come out against the ruling. In a statement, Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital said it had been kept in the dark about the decision. "We disagree with the Department of Revenue's decision to deny Northwestern's Prentice Women Hospital its property tax exemption and do not know the criteria for the ruling.  Given today's ruling, we will begin a process to review all of our options," it said.

For State Senator Iris Martinez, the ruling is evidence that lawmakers need to come together to provide legal means of accountability for non-profit hospitals. She's calling for a public hearing in hopes that government members and hospital representatives can come up with a solution.

Martinez introduced a bill early this year that would require all non-profit hospitals to give 3.5 percent of their revenue toward charity care. It has been in committee since March.