Senate Democrats [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

October 17, 2019; Kaiser Health News

While we understand he may be immersed in other concerns right now, we have noted the slowness of any response from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) regarding media coverage of the cruel billing practices of nonprofit hospitals.

Grassley has a longstanding interest in nonprofits in general and nonprofit hospitals in particular, and we were a little mystified about what appeared to be an uncharacteristic silence on recent investigations performed by ProPublica and Kaiser Health News among others.

In fact, in February of this year, Grassley wrote a letter to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig to request data on nonprofit hospitals’ compliance or lack thereof with congressionally established standards for community benefit under 501(r).

“Making sure that tax-exempt hospitals abide by their community benefit standards is a very important issue for me,” Grassley writes in the letter. “As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I oversaw an investigation into the billing practices of the Mosaic Life Care hospital. That investigation resulted in debt relief of almost $17 million for thousands of low-income patients. This issue is still just as important to me now that I am chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.”

In any case, eight months later, it now appears that Kaiser Health News’ investigation into the University of Virginia Health System’s aggressive collection practices has finally caught his attention, causing him to send a seven-page  letter asking how the institution can justify filing 36,000 in lawsuits against patients in six years. In all, he poses 19 questions to UVA Health, writing in the letter that he sees it as “my job to make sure that entities exempt from tax are fulfilling their tax-exempt purposes.”

They have until November 19th to respond. Then, he indicates he is ready to take on more than just UVA, saying, “Unfortunately, I have seen a variety of news reports lately discussing what appear to be relentless debt-collection efforts by tax-exempt hospitals, including UVA Health System. I am also concerned about how patients’ hospital bills get so high in the first place.”

Though UVA Health System has already committed to changing some of its policies, raising levels of financial assistance, increasing discounts to the uninsured, and reducing the number of suits it files, these changes are seen in some quarters as inadequate.

Also, not for nothing, but maybe now that he is once again paying attention to the foibles of the upper echelons of the nonprofit sector, maybe Grassley could also look into the problems at the NRA?—Ruth McCambridge