The D.C. Department of Human Resources will begin charging most of the estimated 110,000 patients yearly who use its clinics when the department starts using a new automated billing system Aug. 1.
The new system, which will cost about $300,000 annually when hooked into an existing computerized billing system at D.C. General Hospital, is DHR's attempt to recoup about $3.5 million annually that the General Accounting Office last year said the city is losing in DHR's poor billing practices.
DHR's outpatient clinics had been providing most medical services to District residents without charge, regardless of their ability to pay.
Free medical service was mandated by Congress before home rule and continued - in the absence of new legislation from the city council - until recently when the council passed a bill authorizing a fee schedule.
The practice of providing free mediccal care has come under heavy criticism from the Congress for several years.
Last year, Congress cut about $3 million from the city's $27 million medical assistance funds to force the District to devise a better billing method.
"The Senate (appropriations) Committee was concerned that the District government was not collecting funds that it could (by charging patients) and we agreed with them," said Council member Polly Shackleton (D-three), chairman of the council's committee on Human Resources and the Aging. Shackleton sponsored the bill that authorized the fee schedules.
According to Albert P. Russo, director of DHR, all or part of most patients' medical bills can be paid by federal Medicaid and Medicare programs, medical charities or private health insurance.
Because few patients were billed before, however, Russo said he doesn't know how many patients who don't already have medical assistance will be affected.
William Whitehurst, deputy director of DHR, said the department in the past has billed federal medical insurance programs for patients' bills. He said few of those with private medical insurance were billed.
"We've billed some medical insurance programs before," Whitehurst said. "But we have not been realizing the full potential. This time, we're billing everybody."
Russo said that despite the fact that everyone will be billed, no one would be denied services because of the inability to pay.
Some services will still be free, Russo said. They include screening for hypertension and sickle cell anemia; immunization for communicable diseases in adults and children and rabies in animals, and screening and treating, venereal disease, tuberculosis (outpatient care) and forensic psychiatry.
"The new fee rates have been approved by the City Council and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and the rates are reasonable and competitive to those being charged throughout the city," Whitehurst said.
These are the major DHR clinics:
Maternal and child health centers:
Center No. 2 - 1810 14th St. NW, telephone: 629-4476.
Walker-Jones Health Center - First & L Street NW, telephone: 724-4370.
Center No. 10 - 1300 Rhode Island Ave. NE, telephone: 629-2579.
Center No. 16 - 332 Ridge Rd. SE, telephone: 629-3374.
Center No. 17 - 702 15th St. NE, telephone: 399-7303.
Center No. 18 - 4130 Hunt Pl. NE, telephone: 398-1307.
Neighborhood health centers:
Adams-Morgan - 2320 17th St. NW, telephone: 835-4521.
Arthur Capper-1011 7th St. SE, telephone: 629-2461.
*H Street - 635 H St. NE telephone: 629-2702.
*Southwest - 850 Delaware Ave. SW, telephone: 629-5961.
*Northwest - 1325 Upshur St. NW, telephone: 576-7108.
*Anacostia - 1328 W St. SE, telephone: 889-1070.
Potomac Gardens - 1227 G St. SE, telephone: 629-3360.
*Parkside - 701 Kenilworth Terr. NE, telephone: 395-5900.
*Congress Heights - 8th & Xenia Streets, SE, telephone: 629-8574.
*includes dental services (Northwest Dental Clinic-4200 13th St. NW, telephone: 576-6376).
Dental services for children:
Adams - 19th & California Streets NW, telephone: 629-2425.
Raymond - 10th & Spring Road NW, telephone: 629-2659.
Terrell Jr. High - First & Pierce Streets NW, telephone: 629-2551.
Sharps - 4300 13th St. NW, telephone: 576-6161.
Mamie D. Lee - Fort Totten Drive & Hamilton Street NE, 576-6090.
Burroughs - 18th & Monroe Streets NE, telephone: 629-2582.
Buchanan - 13th & E Streets SE, telephone: 629-2537.
Peabody - 425 C St. NE, telephone 629-2517.
Merritt - 50th & Hayes Streets NE, telephone: 629-5008.
Douglas Jr. High - Stanton & Douglass Roads SE, telephone: 629-2884.
Hart Jr. High - 601 Mississippi Avenue SE, telephone: 629-2661.