The property tax exemption offered to nonprofit hospitals in Idaho is a long-standing irritant to critics of the state's largest health systems. Why should hospitals receive tax breaks when they end a year with multimillion-dollar operating margins?
The criticism hit a peak in 1997, when the Ada County Commission stripped St. Luke's Regional Medical Center of its tax-exempt status, ordered it to pay $2 million in property taxes and said it might do the same for Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center. The Legislature in 1999 passed a law that hospitals don't have to pay property taxes if they meet federal standards for charitable, nonprofit institutions.
But that law requires them to report charitable work each year to counties where they have hospitals with 150 or more beds.
Saint Alphonsus and St. Luke's health systems have long argued that tax breaks allow them to provide "charity care" - free or reduced-price medical care - and community programs that benefit the health of local residents. They point to taxes they do pay: property tax on office space they rent out, undeveloped land, offices they use for nonmedical purposes like human resources, and sales and income taxes. They point to construction projects that employ builders.
The following raw numbers for the last fiscal year were provided by the hospitals and their parent systems at the Idaho Statesman's request - including how much the hospitals didn't pay in property taxes, how much they did pay in other taxes, and how much charitable work they reported, based on full (undiscounted) fees. It also includes "unreimbursed care," a shortfall or write-off amount determined by the hospital.
SAINT ALPHONSUS HEALTH SYSTEM
(Includes Oregon hospitals and clinics)
Didn't pay: $5.1 million in real property taxes.
Paid: $1.2 million in taxes for nonexempt properties.
SAINT ALPHONSUS REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, BOISE
Charity care (financial assistance): $10 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicaid patients: $11 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicare patients: $6 million.
Community programs, grants and other services: $10 million.
SAINT ALPHONSUS MEDICAL CENTER - NAMPA
Charity care (financial assistance): $2 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicaid patients: $3 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicare patients: $1 million.
Community programs, grants and other services: About $430,000.
ST. LUKE'S HEALTH SYSTEM
(Includes non-Treasure Valley hospitals and clinics)
Didn't pay: $9.5 million in real property taxes.
Paid: $1.9 million in taxes, including taxes on undeveloped land in Caldwell and Downtown Boise.
ST. LUKE'S REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER
(Includes the Boise and Meridian hospitals)
Medical charges considered "charity care": $12 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicaid: $29 million.
Unreimbursed care for Medicare: $84 million.
Community programs, grants and special services: $18 million.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448