By Adam Andrzejewski
The rising cost of healthcare is undermining the American Dream. Families who are working hard to get ahead now pay nearly $20,000 per year in insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs for healthcare.
“InHospitable” – which premiered at the annual documentary film festival, Doc NYC, last month – is a new 90-minute documentary about America’s healthcare delivery crisis. It’s a well-detailed deep dive into the financial, market, and political power of the modern “non-profit” hospital.
The film exposes the problems within America’s macro healthcare system through an examination of one major market provider, UPMC, the medical center is closely affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh. Through 2019, UPMC, critics allege, tried to monopolize nearly all healthcare in the metro Pittsburgh area.
Large nonprofit hospitals are organized as charities under IRS Section 501(c)3 with the mission of delivering affordable healthcare to their communities. Under Pennsylvania law, the nonprofit must operate freely from private profit motives.
Today, however, many of the largest non-profit hospitals are making big money. For example, in 2020, UPMC paid their CEO $9 million and two other hospital executives made $3 million and $2 million, according to IRS 990 informational returns. In 2015, CEO Jeffrey Romoff earned $6 million. However, between 2016 and 2020, Romoff collected $34.7 million in compensation.
In June 2019, our organization at OpenTheBooks.com published an oversight report titled, “Top 82 U.S. Non-Profit Hospitals, Quantifying Government Payments & Financial Assets.” We found that so-called “non-profit” hospitals and their CEOs were getting richer while the American people were getting healthcare poorer.
We found payouts as high as $10 million, $18 million, and even $21.6 million per CEO or other top-paid employee.
Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Banner Health paid out $34 million to just two executives. The president made $21.6 million and an executive vice-president made $12.4 million.
Consider other “non-profit” hospitals across America:
- $18.6 million flowed to the top paid “special advisor” and former CEO at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas;
- $13.6 million went to the chief at Ascension Health in St. Louis, Missouri;
- $10.7 million was paid to the CEO at the Kaiser Foundation in Oakland, California;
- $10.6 million went to the top paid executive of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare in Chicago, Illinois.
According to “InHospitable,” UPMC built a healthcare empire, amassing huge amounts of wealth and political power at the expense of patients. The film follows several Pittsburgh-area patients who fought UPMC — the state’s largest employer —as it tried to sever ties between it and insurance company Highmark.
In responding to our request for comment, a UPMC spokesperson said, “This is a film backed by the SEIU, which has been trying, unsuccessfully, to organize some UPMC service workers for about a decade.”
The film’s producers, however, made it clear that SEIU did not in any way finance the documentary.
UPMC continued with their statement: “The film singles out UPMC as the poster child for everything wrong with health care, focuses on events from a dozen years ago, and recounts those events with misinformation, incorrect facts, and significant omissions.” Further specifics were not provided.
The documentary recounts some of UPMC’s business strategies, such as owning their own insurance company. In the mid-2000s, UPMC also bought up local specialty hospitals, giving the company, critics allege, a near monopoly on many areas of healthcare locally.
When Highmark, a Pittsburgh-based insurance provider, bought Allegheny Health Network, local healthcare experts surmised that UPMC saw Highmark as a competitive threat. Then, UPMC stopped taking Highmark insurance, cutting off patients from their doctors.
In 2016, the Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett and attorney general Josh Shapiro made the two companies sign a consent decree to work together and allow Highmark patients to get care at UPMC. That was set to expire in June 2019.
As the clock counts down to June, the film follows the Pittsburgh residents as they tell their stories of needing hospital care and working for change.
The stakes are high as UPMC is one of four large property owners in the Pittsburgh area. As a public charity, in question is the payment of hundreds of millions of property taxes alone. Typically, property owned by charities are not subject to taxes.
“I think we really have to look at these institutions and say, ‘What are they doing for their communities? And should they be doing more?’” Elisabeth Rosenthal, author of American Sickness and editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News said.
“I think the pretty clear answer in most cases is they are not deserving and they should be doing more or they should just pay taxes.”
In November, voters elected a new mayor, Ed Gainey, who vowed to hold UPMC accountable. Learn more about the documentary by visiting the website, InHospitableFilm.com, here.