- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

District officials announced a plan yesterday to help the troubled HIV/AIDS Administration catch up on late payments to community-based caregivers, which has contributed to a financial crisis at the Whitman-Walker Clinic and other organizations.

D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. Gregg A. Pane said revising accounting rules will help the administration pay the nonprofit clinics within 20 to 30 days. The reform was spurred by complaints that the existing system is cumbersome and takes as long as six months to make payments.

As a result, the department is moving to an electronic-payment system to make checks each quarter, compared with the paper-based system that includes reviewing invoices on as many as eight levels before providers are paid.

“I expect to have this working …and I am not going to tolerate otherwise,” Dr. Pane said in testimony to the D.C. Council Committee on Health.

D.C. Council member David Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the health committee, criticized the health department last week about the late payments, but yesterday said the changes will be “an enormous improvement” if they can be implemented.

The District has one of the highest AIDS rates in the country, with 170.6 cases per 100,000 residents. City health officials say 12,000 to 15,000 residents may be living with HIV.

Dr. Pane said the new plan also includes administration officials conducting “enhanced site visits” to nonprofit organizations funded through the HIV/AIDS Administration.

The change follows recent disclosures about an ongoing D.C. Office of the Inspector General inquiry that found the administration had employees who didn’t know the addresses of some of the organizations they were supposed to monitor.

“We have a broken system, but we’re fixing it,” Dr. Pane said.

Whitman-Walker, the largest provider of HIV/AIDS services in the area, said the city this week finally paid about $338,000 owed to the clinic.

The shortfall came at a difficult time for the clinic, which might have overbilled the District by $2 million for lab services.

Kim Mills, a Whitman-Walker spokesman, said an internal audit uncovered the overcharging, caused by billing the District “market costs” not “actual costs” for the lab services.

Patricia D. Hawkins, Whitman-Walker’s executive director, said yesterday that the clinic’s recent money problems prompted the board of directors to consider a restructuring plan that would cut costs by about 10 percent.

It’s still not clear whether the $2 million must be repaid. Clinic officials say they are trying to determine whether they under-billed the District for other services, which may offset all or some of the money.

Whitman-Walker officials blamed the clinic’s recent fiscal crisis on the increasing cost of providing medical care while federal funding remains flat and difficulty raising money through special events.

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