— -- There are 846 doctors and dentists in 43 states who have been named by the U.S. Department of Education on a public list in a desperate effort to get them to repay their defaulted student loans.
And because the loans were federally guaranteed, it's taxpayers who are left with the bill.
"Physicians have a higher calling in the community. They have a higher responsibility," Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste told ABC News’ “20/20.” “The Hippocratic Oath says, ‘Do no harm.’ Why should they be doing harm to taxpayers?”
Many of the doctors appear to be living lives of luxury and operate practices in high rent places, including Malibu, California, or Key Biscayne, Florida. But the doctors on the list have collectively defaulted on over $100 million in student loans.
Congress created the federally guaranteed loan program for aspiring doctors in the 1970’s, but because of the high default rate, it pulled the plug on the program in the 1990’s.
That’s when the government decided to publicize the list to shame doctors into paying up. The government has also seized doctors’ tax refunds, prevented the doctors from participating in Medicare, filed lawsuits and even garnished bank accounts.
"They were more likely to pay the money back because it’s embarrassing to them professionally," Schatz said.
ABC's New York station WABC launched its own investigation and tracked down several doctors on the list, including Brooklyn dentist Sammy Saadia, who owes $156,000, and Montclair, New Jersey, podiatrist Demi Turner, who owes almost $700,000, according to the Department of Education.
"They continue to practice medicine. They make money, and there’s absolutely no legitimate reason not to pay that money back," Schatz said.
Dentist Mladen Kralj is one of the doctors on the list. He runs a dental practice in the penthouse of an office building in Chicago’s tony Gold Coast section. Kralj owes the government over $394,107.
“I’m actually in repayment form with them. I’ve had some issues here,” Kralj said when confronted by “20/20.”
Kralj’s loans date back over 23 years. He was sued by the Justice Department and was ordered to pay back the money.
But as of today, Kralj's outstanding debt is bigger than ever because of principle and interest. Kralj told "20/20" that he went through tough times after losing an investor in his business. He said he hasn’t been paid in nine months.
“There’s circumstances in my life that are very sensitive that happened during this part, that I've never been able to catch up on,” Kralj said. “I’m trying to take responsibility for all of this simply because it’s caught up. And the thing is, trying to maintain a practice and trying to pay off loans and trying to get ahead, it’s difficult.”
Over the years, being on the public list has largely worked. Many doctors and dentists on the list have paid back thousands of dollars, leaving only the stalwart holdouts, like leading podiatrist and sports medicine specialist Dr. Scott Kantro.
Kantro, who also made a name for himself as a medical inventor, lives in an upscale home on five acres of property in New York. But according to the list, he currently owes $287,819 for loans he took out in 1979.
While he refused to speak to "20/20" on camera, Kantro claimed he had actually paid his debt off 30 years ago and that it was all a mistake. But when "20/20" asked for his permission to check out his story with the government, he refused.
“There’s some level of sympathy, perhaps, at this point, but not over this long period of time.” Schatz said. “It means that resources have been spent by the government to even get to this point. Thirty percent of these people have been on since 1995. That’s a really long time to keep fighting and not paying.”