Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is one of the last lions of the United States Senate, a populist from Iowa who hasn’t missed a vote since 1993.
The current Finance Committee Chairman, Grassley has been behind legislation that impacts the lives of average Americans, including the creation of Medicare Part D, numerous laws providing tax relief for working families and small businesses, and recent efforts to lower prescription drug costs.
But Grassley is perhaps best known for his dogged, nonpartisan investigations.
He led the 2008 probe into questionable financial relationships between physicians and pharmaceutical companies, took on lax enforcement activities of the Bush Administration ahead of the Great Recession, and challenged outrageous spending by the Pentagon early in his career — a sacred cow for many in D.C. His thorough and robust investigations have led to the passage of major legislation, the resignation of a slew of bad actors, and too many breaking news headlines to count.
So, what happened? Now, at age 86, with his eventual retirement approaching, Grassley appears to have lost his way.
The prairie populist who made a name for himself by focusing on kitchen-table issues seems more interested in matters that have little to do with the everyday concerns of average Americans.
There are numerous areas deserving of attention by the Chairman, for instance skyrocketing tuition, salaries, and scandal at non-profit universities. Perhaps he could focus on non-profit colleges involved in bribery scandals, such as that of the Key Worldwide Foundation. For every student of means who is accepted to one of these schools through fraud, an honest student is denied a life-changing opportunity. This has been allowed to happen because of lax oversight — the kind of oversight Grassley vowed to strengthen.
Then there is the issue of non-profit medical institutions. Lawsuits against patients for unpaid medical bills have jumped in recent years and while the aggressive may sound like those of back alley hoods' tactics — wage garnishment, harassing family members of the deceased — non-profit hospitals are guilty of this more and more.
These hospitals, which generate millions of dollars in revenue, buy their exemption from federal taxes in return for the expectation they provide a charitable benefit to their communities. The terms of those charitable services, however, are not always clearly defined and compliance is rarely audited.
One report earlier this year uncovered a particularly egregious example of this at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, which has earned some nasty headlines for filing more than 8,300 lawsuits in the last few years. Among these were lawsuits against dozens of its own employees who had their wages garnished, which in effect forced them into a form of indentured servitude. (Methodist recently dropped these lawsuits, but only did so under the shame of public pressure).
These hospitals know that these are almost all people living in poverty. The money they owe can be twice what they make in a year.
Grassley rightly addressed these issues in a February letter he sent to IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig and again in October by pressing the University of Virginia Health System to answer important questions. While this was a good first step, so far it’s been the only step. The IRS was asked to investigate non-profit hospitals and submit its findings by April 1. Since then, progress on the inquiry seems to have fizzled.
Meanwhile thousands of people continue living under the threat of crippling lawsuits from hospitals that are supposed to be charitable institutions, all for the crime of becoming sick. This kind of behavior gives all non-profits a bad name.
Sen. Grassley still has time to correct this situation and others, ending his Finance Committee chairmanship with the same populist resolve he’s had his entire career. His legacy deserves it and the American people need it.
Jared Whitley is a long-time politico who has worked in the U.S. Congress, White House, and defense industry. He is an award-winning writer, having won best blogger in the state from the Utah Society of Professional Journalists (2018) and best columnist from Best of the West (2016). He earned his MBA from Hult International Business School in Dubai. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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