Air base targets unpaid medical bills
July 30, 2010
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Yokota base officials are cracking down harder on civilians who owe money to the military hospital here.
“Commissary, exchange and driving privileges for all personnel with medical accounts in arrears will be revoked,” starting Monday, said a July 13 memo from Col. Otto Feather, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing.
The base also will turn those cases over to a collection agency and report them to credit bureaus, according to Feather’s memo.
In May, the base started denying medical services to civilian employees and their family members who had unpaid medical bills in an effort to get them to settle up with the hospital.
That move achieved “some success” but “there are still debtors unwilling to work with us,” Feather said Friday in an e-mailed statement to Stars and Stripes.
Yokota has identified at least 25 employees who now risk losing their shopping and driving privileges on base, Feather said, because they “have ignored or not responded to numerous letters” and “repeated attempts to coordinate resolution of [their] debt.”
Once they are informed of the situation by a representative from their unit or organization, they have 10 days to turn over their driver’s licenses to base security forces or appeal the decision with the 374th Mission Support Group, Feather said.
It was unclear Friday how officials would cancel base shopping privileges for those affected by the new policy and whether dependents’ privileges also would be revoked, as is the case with medical services for delinquent accounts. Emergency medical care is provided despite a delinquent medical account status.
Delinquent accounts for 2010 totaled $30,000 as of May, and the base was trying to recoup another $246,000 from civilians who had yet to pay for medical service they received at the base in 2008 and 2009, Yokota officials told Stars and Stripes in May.
The services typically allow U.S. government employees and their dependents to be treated at military hospitals while stationed overseas. About 1,500 of the 11,000 patients treated at Yokota’s hospital are civilians.
Some military hospitals bill civilians’ private insurance companies following treatment. Others, such as Yokota, do not.
Yokota stopped processing civilian health insurance claims in 2008, citing a strain on manpower, base officials said in May, adding that they were not considering bringing back the practice to help resolve payment problems.
Air Force officials are currently investigating a case involving a Yokota employee suspected of collecting medical insurance money but not paying the hospital, U.S. Pacific Air Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Jay Delancy said Friday.
“The hospital (at Yokota) was left holding the bill, and that’s why they’re getting a little tough,” he said.
Delancy and U.S. Air Forces in Europe spokesman Michael Kucharek said they were unaware of Air Force hospitals elsewhere in Asia or Europe having problems on a scale similar to Yokota.