The federal government helped put Christopher Vogelmann through chiropractic school in the mid-1980s, but a decade after graduating, the Rockville doctor owes more than $95,000.
Vogelmann is among more than 1,400 doctors and other health professionals -- including 29 from Maryland -- whom the Department of Health and Human Services hopes to shame into paying back their federally guaranteed health education loans. This week the names were posted on the Internet.
As a group, the defaulters owe more than $107 million -- an average of $76,000 per person, including penalties.
"These are kind of the hard core, worst of the worst," said Claude Earl Fox, an administrator with the Department of Health and Human Services.
In each case, the agency tried for at least three years to work out payments on the loans without success, he said.
"All we want is a good-faith effort at repayment," Fox said. "These are individuals who have made no attempt to repay."
Vogelmann is not worried, and said he isn't bothered that his name is on the list. He blames the debt on financial problems that led him to file for bankruptcy a few years ago.
"Originally they wanted me to pay something like $1,500 a month," he said. "I was bringing home a lot less than that, so it wasn't going to work."
Bureaucratic difficulties between HHS and the Department of Justice, which has taken legal action against him, complicated his attempts to work out a payment plan, he said.
He recently opened a new practice and says he is getting back on his feet. "If things go according to plan, I should be able to pay it off in 15 years," he said.
Several Marylanders owe much more, including a Silver Spring dentist who owes $210,464 for dental school, and a Gaithersburg man who owes $165,277 for podiatry studies.
Baltimore dentist Dr. Melanie Burke's name also is on the list, although she said she signed a payment plan for the $53,000 she owes last fall, and has been paying on it.
Burke graduated from dental school in 1991, but said family problems kept her from practicing until three years ago.
"For young practitioners who are just starting, it's hard to keep up with what you owe," she said yesterday.
"The bottom line is, it's going to get paid," said Burke.
Dr. Patrick E. Crarey, a 1983 graduate of the Georgetown University medical school, said HHS contacted him about the money he owes last year "for the first time in many, many years."
After graduating, Crarey said he worked for four years in a government program providing medical services to areas with a shortage of doctors. By participating, he said, he believed his federal loans would be wiped clean. He learned otherwise.
According to HHS records, Crarey owes $78,066, a figure he claims is too high.
In addition to posting the names Tuesday on the Internet, HHS disqualified those in practice from receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. Crarey said that action had been taken against him last year, and cost him his job as an emergency room doctor.
"They wanted me to agree to pay $2,500 a month with no job, and they told me they would take everything I had," he said. That is making it even more difficult for him to pay, he said.
Crarey says he signed a payment agreement in December and will begin payments next month. He is seeing a few patients through the practice of a colleague, he said.
All of the cases have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible litigation, which could lead to wage garnishment and seizure of property, Fox said.
Health Education Assistance Loans have helped finance educations for 160,000 students. Five percent of borrowers default, compared with about 10 percent for Department of Education loans issued through Sallie Mae (formerly the Student Loan Marketing Association).
Tuesday marked the third time HHS has resorted to publicizing names of deadbeat professionals.
The HHS Web site list is at http: //www.defaulteddocs.dhhs.gov.
Pub Date: 1/22/98