In response to a request by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report analyzing state and federal community benefit standards reported by nonprofit hospitals. Not suprisingly, the GAO found that community benefit standards vary greatly among states, with some having detailed regulations or requirements and others having vague standards. The GAO also reviewed federal definitions of community benefit, stating that federal regulations and interpretations make for a vague determination of what constitutes community benefit.

The GAO found that hospitals have consensus around certain elements of community benefits, such as charity care, unreimbursed care and certain other activities. However, there are other items that are not consistently included in community benefit, and others that are not measured consistently, both of which make it difficult to compare hospitals and the community benefits they provide.

For those in the healthcare industry, the report's findings were not surprising. Rather, they validated widely-held views. Given this, it is unlikely the report's findings will move policy makers to action. Instead, it will be another note in the continuing drumbeat for consistency in community benefit reporting.

A copy of the GAO report,"Variation in Standards and Guidance Limits Comparison of How Hospitals Meet Community Benefit Requirements" is available online.