Watonga Hospital wants Medicare debt forgiven

Wednesday, May 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WATONGA, Okla. (AP) _ Watonga Municipal Hospital received more than $1 million in Medicare overpayments because of a flawed billing process.

Hospital board members now want Medicare to reduce or forgive this overpayment debt.

They traveled late last week to Washington to meet with representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to discuss options for the debt.

Board Chairman Kyle Goerke said the hospital could get a response in a month or so. Board members have tried to resolve the issue for more than a year.

``It's hard to develop any kind of business plan without this resolved,'' he said. ``We've spent quite a bit of time trying to get this solved.''

When Medicare laws changed in July 2000, the hospital's billing process was not changed, so the hospital received overpayments for about six months totaling about $1.8 million. It took six more months for administrators to fix the problem.

The debt carries a 13.25 percent interest rate. Board members have negotiated with Medicare for several months on reducing the interest rate, but without success.

Members met Thursday with elected officials and Medicare representatives to discuss the possibility of the agency forgiving the overpayment debt. They asked that previous payments be applied to the principal and for an abatement of payments through the summer months, when the hospital's income slows.

First State Bank in Watonga paid travel expenses for the board members' trip to Washington because of the hospital's importance to the community, Goerke said.

``Not only does the hospital serve basic health care needs, but it has a dramatic impact economically in our community,'' he said.

The debt is a central issue in negotiations with the Schuster Group, an Oklahoma company seeking a long-term lease of the hospital.