Some Doctors Owe Hundreds Of Thousands In Student Loans
Feb 2, 2012 10:14 PM
Peter Abernathy, Tennessee Student Assistance Corp.
By Ben Hall Investigative Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee is cracking down on people who are not paying their student loans.
If you stop paying on your student loan and go into default, the state may take away your license to work.
Hundreds of cosmetologists, nurses even barbers have lost their licenses. But our investigation found some doctors are treated differently.
Some who have been in default for years, are allowed to keep right on practicing.
Take Dr. Harold Jackson.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Jackson owes taxpayers more than $115,000.
He didn't even show up for a court hearing about his student loan debt in 2001.
But he does show up at his job as an assistant professor at Meharry Medical college, teaching dentistry.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him, "You owe $115,000. Do you plan to pay that back? Do you think it's right you still have your license?"
Dr. Jackson kept walking to his car and closed the door. He didn't want to talk to us and neither did Dentist Dan Moulds.
Records show Dr. Moulds defaulted on his loan 12 years ago.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, he owes taxpayers more than $150,000. Yet, last month, the Dental Board renewed his license to operate his own practice. The amount he owes has increased over the years because of interest on the original loan.
Doctor Moulds owns a 3,000-square-foot home, worth more than $290,000, near Chattanooga.
He told NewsChannel 5 Investigates outside his office, "I don't feel comfortable talking with you to be honest with you."
The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) guarantees most student federal student loans in Tennessee.
"We're all hurt as taxpayers if people don't repay their loans," said Peter Abernathy, who is the Senior Associate Executive Director and Staff Attorney at TSAC.
TSAC started enforcing a state law three years ago that says those in default on their student loans can lose their professional licenses.
"This gets their attention and quickly brings them back into a payment plan," said Abernathy, who says the goal of the program is not to take licenses but get people to start paying again.
Most student loans today are through the Department of Education. But, from 1978 through 1998, the federal government provided health care loans through what is now the Department of Health and Human Services.
If doctors default on those loans outside the Department of Education, the state says it does not have the authority to punish them by going after their licenses.
"We don't have the authority to go against doctors that defaulted on those types of loans," Abernathy said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists some of the most serious cases of doctors in default on a website.
All of those listed are banned from getting federal Medicare reimbursements.
The list includes doctors like Nashville pulmonologist Dr. Janet Pelmore. She owes taxpayers more than $100,000, but lives in a south Nashville home worth over $250,000.
And Dr. Ihsann Al-Amin owes nearly $68,000. He has been operating a pain clinic in Chattanooga.
Both doctors and many others continue to get their licenses renewed despite being in default.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked State Sen. Randy McNally (R) Oak Ridge, "How surprised were you to hear that so many doctors are in default yet still have their license?"
McNally responded, "Well I thought we had gotten everybody."
Sen. McNally sponsored the original bill that allowed professional boards to revoke licenses of those in default.
"First and foremost, you need to be fair," he added.
McNally is introducing a bill this session that would expand the state law to make sure it applies more equally to everyone.
Since the state started threatening the licenses of those in default, more people have started paying.
But some doctors have been treated differently – able to avoid the obligation to taxpayers.
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