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State Senator: More Charity Care Is Needed At Illinois Hospitals

UPDATED 08/17/11 12:36 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Illinois State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago) is using a state decision to end tax breaks for some hospitals, as a lever to produce more charity care for the needy.

As WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports, the Illinois Department of Revenue ruled that Northwestern Memorial Hospital's Prentice Women's Hospital, Edward Hospital in Naperville and Decatur Memorial Hospital will no longer be granted property tax exemptions granted to non-profit hospitals, because their facilities operate more like businesses than charities.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's John Cody reports


The Illinois Constitution exempts any places used exclusively for charitable purposes from paying property tax. But the Revenue Department said that the three hospitals weren't doing enough free or discounted treatment of the poor to qualify for the exemption.

Martinez says the decision should get the State Hospital Association back to the bargaining table so state lawmakers can negotiate for more charity care.

"If it takes the rest of the year, and into next year, until we can create legislation that we can actually put in place, that will make sure and guarantee a fair share of charity care for all, then that's what I'm going to do," Martinez said.

Martinez says the State Hospital Association killed her bill requiring 3.5 percent charity care for all hospitals. She now plans to resurrect the bill.

Joining Martinez in a news conference at the Thompson Center downtown was Fair Share Coalition director Diane Lemus, who said some Chicago hospitals were earning their non-profit status.

"The safety-net hospitals are like Norwegian (American) Hospital, like Mercy Hospital, like Swedish (Covenant) Hospital, (Stroger) County Hospital, who take a lot of the Medicare and Medicaid patients," she said.

But amputee Carlos Cardenas said going to a hospital was devastating for him, as he lacked insurance for a major operation.

He said St. Joseph Hospital did a good job amputating his leg and doing rehab, but then problems started, given that he was unemployed with so savings.

"So after I was discharged, I began to receive bills for upwards of $50,000. Soon these bills became letters from collection agencies," Cardenas said. "I had been upfront with the hospital that I did not have insurance, or the means to pay my bills."

Meanwhile, the Revenue Department also is reviewing property tax exemption applications from 15 other hospitals.

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