- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 10, 2005

A government panel has recommended that Maryland’s congressional delegation act to take federal money from the District to help pay for uninsured city residents who do not pay for health care they receive in Prince George’s County.

The request was made this week by an oversight committee appointed by the state and county governments to look into the financial woes at Prince George’s Hospital Center.

The panel said Dimensions Health System, which runs county-owned Prince George’s Hospital Center and Laurel Regional Hospital, absorbs the bills for many uninsured D.C. residents who seek treatment in Maryland.

At the same time, the panel concluded, city hospitals attract fully insured Maryland patients into the District.

“To address this imbalance,” the oversight committee recommended, “Maryland’s congressional delegation should take steps to secure for the system an appropriate share of the federal funds appropriated for the District of Columbia.”

The recommendation drew sharp criticism yesterday from D.C. health care leaders who said the city’s hospitals and clinics routinely provide treatment to uninsured Maryland residents who do not pay for services.

“This cuts both ways,” said Robert Malson, president of the D.C. Hospital Association. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense. What needs to happen is for a discussion to approach this in a logical way, and this isn’t logical.”

Last year, Dimensions submitted a $5.2 million bill to the D.C. Department of Health for treating thousands of uninsured city residents following the closing of the D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

The District has refused to pay the bill. D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has said that many uninsured Maryland residents come to the District, particularly to Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which is located on the D.C.-Prince George’s border.

A spokesman for Mr. Williams yesterday said Prince George’s and D.C. officials have been meeting in recent months to talk about several health-related issues, including how to deal with the movement of uninsured patients across the border.

“Both jurisdictions agree that patients flow freely between the jurisdictions,” said Williams spokeswoman Sharon Gang. “It’s less productive to focus on who owes what to whom. We want to work this out for people in the District and in Prince George’s County.”

The bulk of the oversight committee’s report this week focused on other problems at Dimensions, including a history of poor management decisions. The report said county officials should fire Dimensions, a nonprofit company that runs Prince George’s and Laurel hospitals and several nursing homes under a long-term agreement with the county.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele said the report’s recommendation on D.C. federal funding “provides an opportunity” for the District and Prince George’s to deal with the issue. “Now is the time for that discussion to take place,” he said.

Prince George’s County Council Chairman Samuel Dean said talks in the past have broken down.

“We have gone back to the District and provided them with the hard data as to the services we have provided, but at this point of time the District has not been of the mind to provide the funding,” Mr. Dean said.

Several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation were unavailable for comment or could not comment because they had not reviewed the report, according to their staffers.

Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Maryland Republican, said: “I look forward to working with my colleagues in the delegation whose constituents are most directly affected by this request.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Norton Holmes, a Democrat who is the city’s nonvoting member of Congress, vowed to fight any move by Maryland officials to shift federal health funds to the state.

“We would strongly oppose Maryland coming to Congress to interfere with the D.C. appropriation rather than going to the District of Columbia to raise the budget question,” said Norton spokeswoman Doxie McCoy. “Congress is not the intermediary for deciding issues between local jurisdictions.”

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