The Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice 2004 report on competition in health care raises the issue of nonprofit versus for-profit form in several contexts, including their relative financial performance, pricing behavior, and role in caring for the uninsured poor. The report, however, does not discuss in detail the connection between tax exemption and the nonprofit/for-profit debate. Is tax exemption, for example, “buying” charity care for the poor, and would withdrawal of exemption negatively impact health care for the uninsured poor? Or is tax exemption justified on the grounds of other nonprofit behavior outside the financial realm and thus not considered by the report? If nonprofit status does not result in differential financial behavior (as the report concludes) and if competition will end the ability of hospitals to cross subsidize free care for the poor (as the report speculates), is there any reason to retain tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals? This article summarizes the debate on these issues and offers some alternatives to the current structure of tax exemption for nonprofit health care providers.

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