- The Washington Times - Friday, October 28, 2005

D.C. officials say they have no intention of paying a Prince George’s County company that billed the District this week more than $6 million for treating indigent D.C. residents who cross into Maryland for free or low-cost medical care.

“I am sure many District residents receive uncompensated care in Maryland,” D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said. “I could give you a list of thousands of Maryland people who receive uncompensated care in the District.

“I don’t think the answer is for us to start charging each other, especially when we have such lousy information,” he said.

Mr. Williams, fielding questions Wednesday at a joint press conference in Annapolis with Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, commented in response to a letter that the District received this week from Dimensions Healthcare System.

The nonprofit group, which runs Prince George’s Hospital Center, is seeking $6,882,860 from the District. The company says the payment would cover treatment for 7,543 uninsured D.C. residents who sought care in the company’s Maryland facilities as a result of the closure of D.C. General Hospital in 2001.

Mr. Ehrlich called Dimensions’ request for D.C. health care dollars “a relatively minor element of what amounts to a major regional issue.”

Citing the company’s history of financial troubles, he also called for a restructuring of the Prince George’s County health care system.

“Whether it means these facilities are assimilated into an existing system or whether they are purchased, whatever the terms are, there clearly needs to be a new foundation because this has been going on a long time and it goes to the very bottom line of public health,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

“What has occurred within this system — for as long as I can remember, quite frankly — is unsustainable,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “The numbers do not work, and we all know it.”

Dimensions runs Prince George’s Hospital Center, Laurel Regional Hospital, the Bowie Health Campus and several nursing homes through a lease deal with the Prince George’s County government. One of the largest health systems in Maryland, the company has struggled financially in recent years.

Dimensions says the District’s decision to close D.C. General has hurt its finances.

“While the District of Columbia government exercised its right to close D.C. General Hospital … it is not appropriate — morally or ethically — to deny payment to Dimensions for services provided to residents of the District,” Dimensions’ Chief Executive Officer G.T. Dunlop Ecker wrote in his letter to the District.

“In order for us to maintain critical health care services for all patients we serve, including uninsured residents of the District of Columbia, it is important that we receive payment from all sources,” Mr. Ecker wrote.

The chief executive officer’s letter was obtained by The Washington Times. Mr. Ecker first disclosed his request for funds from the District Tuesday at a meeting with Dimensions’ board of directors.

Dimensions’ request includes a breakdown of the number of uninsured D.C. patients who the company says received care at its facilities since 2001 and associated costs. The statistics show that more than 5,000 patients sought care from Prince George’s Hospital Center’s emergency room.

The hospital is located just across the D.C.-Maryland border in Cheverly.

Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said officials received the letter from Dimensions Wednesday. But it’s unlikely that the D.C. government will pay the bill, she said.

“Neither of the two jurisdictions is interested in sending bills back and forth,” Miss Abrar said.

Dimensions billed the District for more than $5 million last year, but the payment request was denied by the city’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

On each occasion, Dimensions has sent its request for city funds by billing a company that processes claims for the D.C. Healthcare Alliance. The city-funded health plan is provides care for low-income residents who do not qualify for Medicaid.

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