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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Civilian employees who owe money to the base hospital here must settle up within two weeks or lose access to the health care facility, according to a base policy issued Tuesday.

About 150 Defense Department employees and their dependents have delinquent medical accounts for bills that have gone unpaid more than 120 days, said base spokeswoman 1st Lt. Tania Bryan.

Those civilians will be flagged in the hospital’s computer system and barred from scheduling routine appointments until payment in full is made as of May 27, when the policy takes effect, Bryan said. In addition to the letters from the hospital explaining their past-due bills, patients will soon receive a letter from the base explaining the new consequences.

Emergency medical care still will be provided regardless of account status, according to the new policy.

The action aims to resolve a decade-long problem with civilians who do not pay their medical bills, which add up to about $120,000 annually, Bryan said.

"This practice is unacceptable and will not be tolerated," reads a memo on the policy from Col. Mark Hicks, commander of the 374th Airlift Wing.

About 1,500 of the 11,000 patients treated at Yokota are civilians.

Current delinquent accounts total $30,000. Yokota also is trying to recoup another $246,000 from civilians who have yet to pay for medical service they received at the base in 2008 and 2009, some of whom have left Yokota, Bryan said.

The base is working with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to recover the money, but Yokota officials also are considering using a private debt-collection agency in the future, she said.

Yokota is the first base in the U.S. Pacific Air Forces command to institute such a policy, PACAF spokesman Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman said. It was unclear Tuesday whether other overseas military hospitals are experiencing similar issues or considering similar policies.

On Okinawa, the Navy does not need to consider such a rule. It garnishes the wages of civilian employees who do not pay their bills within 180 days, according to U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa spokesman Brian Davis.

The services typically allow U.S. government employees and their dependents to be treated at military hospitals while stationed overseas.

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, Bryan said. Though the process can be complicated, hospital workers do help individuals who seek assistance filling out the paperwork, she said.

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