Several hundred government doctors and nurses, most of them at the Veterans Administration, have not repaid federal loans they received as students, according to a study by the Health and Human Services Department.
Several medical school employes also owe the government money, the study said.
HHS Inspector General Richard P. Kusserow said 258 federal employes have not repaid loans received through the health professions student loan program, created in the 1960s to help needy students study medicine, dentistry, pharmacy or veterinary science. And, 432 federal employes owe nursing student loans, he said.
Most of the delinquent borrowers work at the Veterans Administration, which employs more than 9,000 part-time and full-time physicians and 26,000 nurses in its hospitals and homes. A preliminary review showed that as many as 190 of the 258 debtors in the HPSL program could be VA employes.
HHS has not determined how much money the federal employes owe. The two loan funds have a combined total of 17,000 outstanding loans, worth $25.1 million.
The government employes were identified by comparing computerized lists of delinquent borrowers with master lists of federal employes at all agencies except the Defense Department, Tennessee Valley Authority and Coast Guard. HHS is studying employe lists from those agencies.
Officials refused to identify physicians and nurses who owe the government money.
VA physicians receive a base pay of approximately $60,000 per year, but that can rise to more than $80,000 under a complicated incentive system implemented by Congress in 1975 to attract quality doctors.
HHS said 108 government employes who owe on NSL loans work at HHS. Sixty-nine of them earned between $10,917 and $28,245 per year, and the others earned more, officials said. The debts, some outstanding for six years, ranged from $30 to $2,153.
HHS said department employes who do not pay the debts could face disciplinary action ranging from "admonishment to removal."
HHS also compared its list of delinquent NSL borrowers with public medical school records and determined that 387 delinquent borrowers currently are employed at 27 institutions, including the Los Angeles County Medical Center (66 employes) and University of Alabama-Birmingham (60 employes). Most of the borrowers are on the teaching staff, officials said, and their names will be turned over to school officials.
Investigators also compared the HHS debtors list to a computerized log of persons who monitor grants and contracts for the National Institutes of Health to ensure that federal funds are properly spent. They found that 27 of the "principal investigators" owe the government money.