Phoebe reimburses Dougherty County for indigent care - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Phoebe reimburses Dougherty County for indigent care

October 4, 2004

Albany - As Phoebe Putney faces a lawsuit accusing the hospital of overcharging the uninsured, the hospital gave back tax money allocated to pay for health care for the poor. Monday, CEO Joel Wernick reimbursed Dougherty County for more than $2.4-million - tax money Phoebe Putney said wasn't need because it covered the cost of indigent care on its own.

Dougherty County commissioners cheered as they accepted the reimbursement check. "Because of our financial success, we were able to return to the taxpayers $2.4-million," said Phoebe Putney CEO Joel Wernick.

In 2002, the tax money was allocated to Phoebe to pay for health care for the poor and uninsured. But, Wernick says the hospital paid for more than $46-million in indigent care without taxpayer's money.

"We're going to put this money back into the general fund which will be part of the budget strategy to make sure Dougherty County taxpayers don't have to experience a tax increase in 2004-2005, " said County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard.

The check presentation comes while there's a pending lawsuit against Phoebe Putney accusing the hospital of overcharging the uninsured. However, Phoebe Putney says the lawsuit didn't spur the check presentation, but rather the health system's annual audit ended in October and revealed the tax money wasn't needed.

"Of course, the services of Phoebe Putney are provided the same to all people regardless of their ability to pay," said Wernick. "All people who come to the institution are given the opportunity to apply for indigent assistance. And, the uninsured are encouraged to tell us about their financial circumstances so that we can make specific programs for them also."

Phoebe Putney maintains it didn't overcharge uninsured patients, a point reiterated to county commissioners Monday. "We believe our pricing is fair and appropriate, and we continue to invest in our community," said Wernick at the commission meeting.

In 2002, Dougherty County commissioners voted to stop allocating tax money for indigent health care.

Posted at 4:31PM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com