Questions raised about doctor's incentive program

Dr. Victor Gonzalez

Questions are being raised about an incentive program that was set up to bring quality doctors to 'under-served' areas.

A report from the inspector general revealed major discrepancies dealing with about $64 million in bonuses.

The letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services back on March 5, 2004 requesting Hidalgo County be withdrawn from the health professional shortage area. But according to the memo dated September 26, 2011, that never happened which puts about $64 million in question.

For 17 years Dr. Victor Gonzalez has called the Rio Grande Valley home.

Over the years, he said, the valley has seen a significant improvement in the quality of healthcare and overall quality of health all because of bonuses offered to medical professionals willing to relocated to underserved areas.

"There has definitely been a tremendous improvement in the overall health of the community, said Dr. Gonzalez. It TMs a result of the high quality health professionals we've been able to attract."

But a memo to the Deputy Health and Human Services Secretary states that Hidalgo County should've stopped receiving those incentives back in 2005.

According to the memo obtained by Action 4 News, On March 30, 2005 it was proposed that Hidalgo County be withdrawn as a health professional shortage area by the primary care office with the Texas Department of State and Health Services.

The memo stated, "The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) failed to act on this recommendation."

A year earlier, on March 5, 2004, a similar letter also obtained by Action 4 News, was sent to the U.S. Health and Human Services by the Texas Department of State Health Services stating that Hidalgo County no longer qualified as a health professional shortage area.

No action was taken and millions of dollars in incentives were still handed to Hidalgo County physicians at the cost of taxpayers. Action 4 news called the HRSAto get some answers asking why this went on for so long and why no one caught the error until recently. Action 4 news only received a written statement saying, HRSA cannot speak to why this did not happen in the past, but what I can tell you is when the current HRSA was made aware of the situation, she set the agency on a path and HRSA is now fully addressing the statutory requirement to publish a federal register notice."

The office of inspector general estimates that the potential HRSA bonus payments to Hidalgo County providers may have totaled as much as $64 million.

"If there is an overpayment, said Dr. Gonzalez, It has nothing to do with the doctors or the doctors committing fraud. If doctors did get overpaid then it is a clerical error---a system error in Washington."

Dr. Gonzalez said the physicians have no control over the money coming in or the areas that are designated as underserved.

Action 4 News contacted the center for Medicaid and Medicare Services, but they would not go 'on record' regarding this incident and referred us back to the health resources and services administration.

Action 4 News will continue to follow the story and provide information with the latest developments.

To read the complete memo, click on the link below: