Calif. Assembly debates nonprofit hospitals bill

Juliet Williams, Associated Press
Calif. Assembly debates nonprofit hospitals bill

Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, displays a tote bag given away by a non-profit hospital in his district as he urged Assembly members to approve his measure to force nonprofit hospitals to prove they provide enough charitable care to justify their tax-exempt status, at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, May 30, 2013. The legislation, AB975, failed to get enough votes to pass during the first two attempts and remains pending.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California's Assembly weighed legislation Thursday that would force nonprofit hospitals to prove they provide enough charitable care to justify their tax-exempt status and establish uniform reporting standards for hospitals.

Hospitals would have to provide more details about what is included in the charitable care they provide under AB975 by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont.

The legislation failed to get enough votes to pass during three separate votes Thursday, but Wieckowski was granted permission to bring it up again Friday, the deadline for bills to move from one house of the Legislature to the other.

It has support from some of the state's most powerful labor groups, including the California Nurses Association, and is opposed by business groups and the California Hospital Association.

The wording of AB975 says it is intended "to ensure that private nonprofit hospitals and nonprofit multispecialty clinics actually meet the social obligations for which they receive favorable tax treatment."

During the floor debate, Wieckowski held up a fabric grocery bag he said he was given at a free event in his community. He questioned whether such handouts might be included in some hospitals' tally of the community benefits they provide.

"When a hospital in my district says they provide millions of dollars in community benefit, that's great. I want them to brag about it ... but I think the public should be able to trust the number they're given," he said. "How much of the millions of dollars that are being spent are going to bags or vaccinations or community clinics?"

Republicans opposed the bill, saying it could reduce access to charitable care for the state's poorest residents.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, said current law already lays out strict requirements for nonprofits. He called the legislation far-reaching, unnecessary and "more about a power grab by the nurses union" than an effort to improve health care for the poor.

Hospitals also would be fined if they fail to submit timely reports detailing their charity care.

The nurses and other labor groups say the tax benefits the hospitals receive as nonprofit organizations are far larger than the value of their charitable work and that hospitals count their charity care in different was, making it difficult to compare.