Federal officials have conceded that a list they released this week of health professionals who allegedly defaulted on their student loans was misleading and included some who may have been late only once in a recent 12-month period.
More than 50 Orange County health care professionals, ranging from chiropractors to dentists, were on the list, distribution of which was used by the U.S. Health and Human Resources Agency to pressure people into paying up.
But release of the names brought protests from some of those who found themselves listed in newspapers throughout the United States and in the Federal Register, an official government publication.
Among those outraged: Laguna Hills podiatrist Steven H. Savran, who called the agency in Washington on Tuesday to protest, saying that he had been making regular payments for the last five years and was stunned about being on the list of "deadbeats."
"They should have explained that we are not rich doctors walking away from a debt--nothing could be further from the truth," said Savran, a native of New York. "When I first moved to California, I had a tough couple of years setting up my practice. I admit I had problems paying my bills. But now I'm told I have a good payment record, and I'm still on the list when I shouldn't be.
"Sometimes you fall a month behind, like with an auto payment or something," Savran said, "but that doesn't mean I'm running away from my obligations. That's what the list implies. I've always paid my debts."
Agency spokesman Mark Roebuck agreed that officials didn't adequately explain how the agency came to describe the people listed as "defaulters."
"If you were late only once between April, 1992, and March, 1993, you would be on this list," Roebuck said. "There have been calls about this--some from doctors--but most have been from reporters telling us about the sob stories they're hearing from people on the list, about their difficult financial circumstances."
But Roebuck said that the so-called defaulters had already skipped out on the financial institutions that originated the loans, or the agency wouldn't be involved in trying to get the money back now.
"In other words," Roebuck said, "these people are making payments to us because private lenders couldn't recover the money, and we (the taxpayers) have in effect bought out those debts."
The federal government took over the collection effort, Roebuck said, because the loans were federally insured.