- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 4, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams wants the city to keep better track of where indigent residents in Maryland and the District seek medical care, amid a debate over who should pay for thousands of poor D.C. residents who get free treatment in Prince George’s County.

“I think we ought to be moving toward a kind of regulatory environment where we can keep better accounting of this between Maryland and the District,” Mr. Williams said at his weekly press briefing yesterday.

The issue surfaced after D.C. officials balked at a recent bill submitted to the city by the nonprofit parent company that owns Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly.

The Washington Times reported last week that Dimension Healthcare Systems wants more than $5 million from the District for the treatment of thousands of indigent city residents since the city closed D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

However, city and D.C. health care industry officials say the movement of indigent patients has flowed heavily in the other direction with many uninsured Maryland residents getting care at D.C. hospitals.

“If they want to talk about Prince George’s [Hospital], then I want to talk about Greater Southeast [Community Hospital] and D.C. General,” Mr. Williams said yesterday.

Greater Southeast is located in Ward 8 on Southern Avenue SE, which divides Maryland and the District. D.C. General in Ward 6 closed in 2001. City officials say both facilities have provided free care to indigent Maryland residents, although officials have not provided any statistics.

Mr. Williams also invited the president of a lobbying group that represents the District’s hospitals to speak about the problem at the mayor’s press briefing.

Robert Malson of the D.C. Hospital Association said city hospitals oppose paying Prince George’s Hospital for providing free care to indigent city residents.

“The attempt by Prince George’s [Hospital] to get the District to pay for this is bad for them because quite candidly we provide far more services in an uncompensated way to Maryland residents who happen to show up in a District hospital,” he said.

However, Mr. Malson told The Times last week that the hospital lobbying group doesn’t have readily available statistics showing how many poor Maryland residents seek hospital care in the District.

Mr. Malson yesterday said he wants to avoid what he called a “tit-for-tat” argument between government and health care officials on both sides of the state border.

Meanwhile, D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services yesterday criticized comments by Maryland’s top public health official about the District’s refusal to pay the Prince George’s hospital bill.

Maryland Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene Nelson J. Sabatini told The Times on Friday that “the standing joke” is that D.C. EMS crews take insured patients to D.C. hospitals, but those without insurance are driven to Maryland.

“That notion is just absurd,” responded D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman Alan Etter. “Our situation is to take sick and injured people and get them to the closest appropriate facility to deal with their injury.”

Mr. Etter denied that city EMS crews transport patients to a particular hospital based on the level of their insurance coverage.

“That’s probably illegal,” he said.

“If Maryland officials somehow think this is something to joke about, we don’t think it’s a joke at all,” Mr. Etter added

Dimensions first sought the city funds by billing the D.C. Healthcare Alliance in June. The $96 million city-funded insurance plan is operated through the D.C. Department of Health. The alliance provides care for low-income residents who do not qualify for Medicaid.

Mr. Williams yesterday appointed a new director for the city’s health department, Dr. Gregg A. Pane. A former vice president at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, he did not address the dispute involving Prince George’s Hospital. But Dr. Pane said he wants to better market the alliance program to encourage more city residents to enroll.

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