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Doctors Struggle With Unpaid Claims From State

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Many doctors have fallen behind financially because they're not receiving payments for their services. Many doctors have fallen behind financially because they're not receiving payments for their services.
HealthChoice is trying to solve the issue, but doctors say it's too late. HealthChoice is trying to solve the issue, but doctors say it's too late.
Some doctors will have to close their practices. Some doctors will have to close their practices.

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- These are desperate times for some doctors in our state.

Struggling doctors in Oklahoma claim medical services and their own livelihood are on the line, and a state agency is to blame.

A serious backlog of insurance claims is forcing some doctors and dentists into making cutbacks.

Lawmakers said they're on top of the problem, but some providers argue it's too late.

Dr. Steven Watson has thousands of patients, and has run a successful office in the metro for nearly 30 years.

Dr. Watson fears he'll soon be homeless and he may have to close his practice. He can't pay his truck note and his family has little money for food.

"You're completely crumbled and just humbled when a patient comes to your house and brings you meatloaf," Dr. Watson said.

Dr. Watson, like so many other doctors and dentists in Oklahoma, is struggling because they're not being paid for claims filed with HealthChoice, the insurance plan used by most state employees and teachers.

"No one can afford to keep their doors open when they're not paid in a timely manner for the services they provide," said Representative Doug Cox (R-District 5).

At a news conference, lawmakers said HealthChoice was working to remedy the problem. One solution would give immediate help to some medical providers.

"It will provide some cash flow," said HealthChoice Administrator Bill Crain. "It'll provide them with some money, I'm sure, they desperately need."

HealthChoice's plan would only help providers in rural parts of the state, a plan Dr. Watson calls unfair.

"Who says we're not just as important?" Dr. Watson said. "We have families and have to eat just like everyone who lives in the country."

HealthChoice hopes to have payment plans back to normal by mid-summer, but Dr. Watson said by then, it'll be too late.

"Mid-summer, we'll be dead and gone," Dr. Watson said.

HealthChoice said a new company, EDS, simply wasn't ready to take on the task when they took over the processing of claims on January 1, causing the backlog.

EDS said it'll begin paying interest on claims that are more than 45 days old. Lawmakers said once the dust settles, they plan to ask for an audit of HealthChoice.

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