In Southgate, Mich., an FBI fugitive squad last month nabbed a former professional football player who was registered under an alias at a hotel. His alleged offense: shirking more than five years' worth of support payments for his son amounting to about $115,000.

The arrest of Theodore Roosevelt Nix--a former member of the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals, who was found in the Detroit suburb with a stolen Mercedes--was one of the more dramatic in a spate of recent cases arising from new collaborations between federal and state agencies trying to crack down on parents who balk at child support.

Known as "Project Save Our Children," the new effort is creating task forces involving the Department of Health and Human Services, the Justice Department and state agencies around the country. They are working to identify, arrest and prosecute parents whose failure to make support payments for their children is so egregious that it breaks the law.

The first of these task forces, based in Columbus, Ohio, was created nearly two years ago to handle cases in five midwestern states. Last August, a similar team was created in Baltimore to deal with delinquent parents in the Mid-Atlantic, including Maryland, the District and Virginia.

The idea is to step up enforcement of a 1992 federal law intended to address the large number of child support cases that are beyond the reach of individual states, because the delinquent parent lives in a different state than the children. Under that law, such parents can be charged with a federal misdemeanor if they owe more than $5,000 or their payments lag by a year or more. A more recent law allowed parents to be charged with a felony--even on a first offense--if they owe more than $10,000 or have refused to make payments for at least two years.

According to figures issued by HHS last month, the coordinated crackdown is starting to yield results. So far, the task forces' work has led to 275 arrests under state and federal laws, 210 convictions and court orders to pay $5.3 million in overdue child support.

In addition to Nix, recent cases have included that of a New Hampshire physician who transferred many of his assets overseas and moved to Central America. Federal officials obtained a warrant for his arrest and persuaded the government of Belize to put him on a plane back to the United States, where he was arrested and convicted for owing $66,000.

"We're looking for people to understand there's a penalty for not paying," said Jack Hartwig, HHS's deputy inspector general for investigations.

PATIENT EDUCATION: In its continuing campaign to help elderly people fathom the intricacies of Medicare, the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA) appointed a group of advisers to improve education for patients who rely on the health insurance program. The 13-member panel, which will convene for the first time next week, includes patient advocates, state insurance officials, and representatives of the insurance industry and corporations.

PAY RAISE? Yet another salvo in the ongoing political wars over the future of Medicare. . . . Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) fired off a letter last month to HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann DeParle, reacting to legislation that would replace part of the agency's work with a new Medicare board. Stark noted that the bill, sponsored by Sens. John Breaux (D-La.) and Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), would pay each of the seven members of the proposed board $141,300 a year--more than DeParle's salary of $122,400.

"You should immediately ask--heck, demand--an $866,700 pay increase," Stark counseled DeParle. "In other words, you are doing the job of seven people."