Dallas County taxpayers pick up the bill when Parkland Hospital treats out-of-county residents who don't pay. That's particularly galling when a patient lies about where he or she lives or how much money the responsible party earns - lies told in order to get charity health care from this excellent hospital.

Parkland has had enough of this nonsense and vows to pursue 142 patients who officials think played loose with the facts to skirt what totals $4 million in medical bills last year. And the hospital is getting help to do it. Dallas County commissioners have cleared the way for the district attorney's office to hire two investigators to pursue criminal charges.

It's tough, necessary medicine to bandage some financial bleeding. While public hospitals like Parkland have an obligation to serve indigent emergency patients, they're notoriously lax about collecting medical debts, especially for non-emergency treatment.

Free non-emergency medical care is supposed to go only to a Dallas County resident in, for example, a family of four that earns less than $40,000 a year, lacks health insurance coverage and can't purchase health coverage at work. If someone lies about income or residency, that person is guilty of cheating Dallas County taxpayers.

And it adds up. In the 2005 fiscal year, Parkland provided $76.5 million in medical services to out-of-county residents and received payment for just $49.7 million. Collin County residents alone left $4.5 million in unpaid services on Parkland's doorstep.

Parkland and county commissioners deserve credit for no longer looking the other way and for the better record keeping that makes this crackdown possible.

The Texas Legislature could do its part by changing state law to require counties to reimburse indigent-care costs owed to other counties at higher rates. Dallas County has sought unsuccessfully to have this law revised, and it should again take up this banner when lawmakers reconvene in Austin in January.

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