Tag Archives: boston globe

For some hospitals, tax breaks outstrip charity care

A story by Boston Globe reporters Scott Allen and Marcella Bombardieri questions the provision of nonprofit status for hospitals and the tax breaks that come with it, vestiges of a time when hospitals needed financial incentives to treat the nation’s poor.

They look at Massachusetts hospitals pulling in billions of research dollars and making liberal use of their tax incentives. An intensive review of relevant records revealed that the value of these tax breaks far exceeds the value of the free care the hospitals provide for the poor, the reporters say.

The 10 leading hospital companies benefited from an estimated $638 million in federal, state, and local tax breaks as well as state discounts on borrowing in 2007, the latest year for which complete data are available. More than half of that goes to two large and growing companies, Partners and Children’s Hospital. Overall, the 10 hospital companies’ tax breaks and other benefits were worth $264 million more than the value of the “community benefits” – care for the poor and other charity work – they reported to the state attorney general that year.

The reporters also note that Massachusetts health care reform has helped increase the gap; hospitals now provide half as much free care as they did before reforms were instituted (Today, about 1 percent of patients don’t have to pay). In the midst of a climate of tight budgets and potential reforms, a group of politicians led by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is calling for rules holding nonprofit hospitals to higher standards of charity work than their for-profit peers.

The in-depth story digs deeper into potential reforms and issues and paints a detailed financial picture of the impact the nonprofit status of major hospitals is currently having on the state’s budget.

Reports: Detainees receive sub-par medical care

In the process of investigating the unreported death of Pakistani detainee Ahmad Tanveer, 43, Nina Bernstein of The New York Times discovered just how difficult it can be to keep track of immigrants detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s massive and decentralized system. Bernstein investigated multiple instances in which a suspected detainee death was not included on government lists, and others in which obvious detainee medical problems were misdiagnosed or ignored.

As Congress and the news media brought new scrutiny to the issue, several detention deaths have highlighted problems with medical care and accountability. In one, a Chinese computer engineer’s extensive cancer and fractured spine went undiagnosed at a Rhode Island jail until shortly before he died, despite his pleas for help. In another, records show a Guinean tailor who suffered a skull fracture in a New Jersey jail was left in isolation without treatment for more than 13 hours.

Boston Globe

In the Boston Globe‘s Op-Ed section, Homer Venters and Allen S. Keller say the problem’s scope is vast, with 400,000 immigrants being detained in 2008 and projections even higher for 2009:

Over 90 detainees have died in ICE custody since 2004, but because ICE does not track the types and severity of medical problems among detainees, we are unaware of the much larger number of detainees who needed care and did not receive it.

Venters and Keller, professors at NYU’s school of medicine, call for the Obama administration to reform detainee treatment and say have been a few promising signs of progress.


Sheri Fink of ProPublica cited a leaked Red Cross report stating that medical staff provided detainees in secret CIA prisons with excellent medical care, but also sometimes participated in “‘ill treatment’ such as beatings and waterboarding.” Fink used publicly available information and records to answer questions raised by the report.

Responding to questions from the New York Times, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said his agency had long ago ended the interrogation program and the agency, as directed by the Obama administration, will only use techniques that fall within the Army Field Manual.

Mont. Democrat leads Senate health charge

The Boston Globe‘s Lisa Wangsness reports that Montana Democrat and Senate Finance Committee chair Max Baucus has become a leader in the legislative push for health-care reform.

At a time many see as the best opportunity in 15 years for a comprehensive healthcare overhaul, Baucus, 67, has stepped into an unexpected leadership void. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a leader on the issue for decades, is suffering from brain cancer. Obama’s initial point-person on health reform, Tom Daschle, who boasted both extensive legislative experience and in-depth understanding of the policy, withdrew his nomination for Health and Human Services secretary because of tax problems.

Wangsness reports that, instead of using a weak economy as an excuse to put off reform plans, Baucus has argued that in tough financial times health care costs are a bigger issue than ever. Sen. Baucus has moved quickly to establish health-care street cred, Wangsness said. “Since last June, he has held hearings, hired top policy staff and issued a widely praised 89-page blueprint for reform days after the election.”

Globe section eliminated; Post staff joins team

Call this the case of the disappearing health section. One of the nation’s biggest and best-known dailies – The Boston Globe – has eliminated its stand-alone Monday Health/Science section after 25 years of widely praised coverage that included a 2005 Pulitzer Prize. The move, of course, comes amid ongoing retrenchment at the paper, but health and science editor Gideon Gil is putting on a brave face.

“I don’t see it as a serious retreat,” says Gil, who expects his nine-person staff will remain intact. “The content is all running in the paper, but going in different places … It was nice to have our own sandbox to play in, the freedom to stretch. Science is quirky sometimes, so a bit of serendipity is lost when we have to fit into different niches in the paper.”

However, former Globe science editor Nils Bruzelius, who is now deputy national editor in charge of science at The Washington Post, was more blunt. “It will definitely put a crimp in the amount of science and health coverage in the paper,” he tells the Columbia Journalism Review. “It will continue to be high-quality, but this can’t help but dim the overall breadth and scope of coverage when you’re fighting for space every day and defining what you do in a more narrowly focused way.”

Meanwhile, The Post is gathering its smattering of health, science and environment reporters into one team. Just the same, the “stories will appear all over the paper and online, just as they do now – on the front page or home page, in National, Metro, Business and the Health sections,” according to a memo written by executive editor Marcus Brauchli and publicized by Politico’s Michael Calderone.

“The aim is two-fold. One, our current structure can sometimes work against strong communication and collaboration, which means reporters only occasionally work in concert with each other and – not surprisingly – often don’t know who’s working on what at any given time. Second, we hope to break down the newsroom silos that can prevent us from using resources in the smartest, highest-impact way.”