I-Team: Huge Sums Owed to University Medical Center - 8 News NOW

George Knapp, Chief Investigative Reporter

I-Team: Huge Sums Owed to University Medical Center

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Financial problems have overwhelmed University Medical Center, the Las Vegas Valley's public hospital. The county is pumping tens of millions of dollars into UMC to cover the ever-growing shortfall.

Major problems for the hospital are patients, companies, and government agencies that simply won't pay their bills. The I-Team has the lowdown on the most egregious deadbeats.

You don't have to tell CEO Kathy Silver how bad UMC's financial picture is. She inherited a mess when county officials fired her predecessor Lacy Thomas earlier this year. Under Thomas, UMC stopped sending financial reports to the county. He is now under criminal investigation for alleged sweetheart contracts he approved.

UMC is considering cutbacks or the elimination of vital medical services as a way to cover its mounting debts, but things wouldn't be nearly so bad if deadbeats who owe the hospital would pay up.

Here's a telling number. Self-pay clients -- that is, those who don't have insurance but who don't qualify for a government medical program -- owe $160 million for care they've received over the last four years. Some of them declared bankruptcy while some simply can't or won't pay. Silver says $160 million is the total billed charges, but UMC never expected to collect the full amount because of fee agreements.

CEO Kathy Silver said, "If we got 10 million dollars, we'd probably feel pretty good about that."

Some of the largest outstanding debts are owed by government agencies. Medicare is at least 90 days late paying nearly $10 million in billed services. Silver says UMC does a lot of business with Medicare and usually gets paid in 28 days or less. The 10 million owed most likely involves cases where Medicaid needs more information to make sure the patients aren't covered elsewhere.

Silver expects to get $3 million of the total. Not so for the Veterans Administration, which owes nearly $6 million. As many veterans will agree, the V.A. is notorious for its foot-dragging. Ditto for TriCare, which owes more than a million for care given to military dependents. UMC expects to eventually get 20 cents on the dollar.

"The V.A. is slow pay and, unfortunately, low pay. So to have the V.A. out there with this amount of money, I'm not real comfortable," Silver continued.

State programs owe huge amounts. State Medicaid owes UMC more than $21 million. It might take two years for UMC to get 20-percent of the total bill. The state also owes more than $9 million for indigents, close to $7 million to cover the costs of care to undocumented aliens, and almost $10 million from a fund to treat crime victims.

Neighbors California and Arizona have around $26 million owed to UMC for care given to residents from those states. Again, UMC never expected to get the total bill, but knows it may not get paid at all.

The I-Team's George Knapp: "What's the deal with that? Why aren't they paying?"

CEO Kathy Silver: "Good question. Maybe it's because they are taking care of their own first, I don't know. Both California Medicaid and Arizona Medicaid, we struggle with both of those."

George Knapp: "Meaning they are slow to pay, or don't pay at all?"

Kathy Silver: "Often times we don't get paid, period."

Managed care plans also owe a bundle. Nevada Care is the worst offender. The company has received more than $12 million in bills from UMC. The hospital hopes to collect $4.5 million of that, maybe. Nevada Care is so bad at paying up that cash-strapped UMC has stopped doing business with the firm. Several other managed care plans owe millions, including the Culinary Union.

The union's billable charges are $2.4 million. It owes about $700,000 because of a discount deal. Silver says the Culinary Union is a good partner and she's not worried about that bill whatsoever, but if she could get other deadbeats to fork over what they owe, UMC wouldn't be considering cuts in certain medical programs.

Larry Hurst, vice president of Nevada Care, says his company doesn't owe UMC anything. He says Nevada Care paid UMC everything it was owed, and any outstanding charges might be the result of well-publicized problems with UMC's financial controls.

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