AVH may forgive old bills | AspenTimes.com

AVH may forgive old bills

John Colson

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Aspen Valley Hospital is ready to forgive old bills that went unpaid because of billing errors, and is calling off collection agencies for three months to straighten out its problems.The hospital announced the “90-day window for account resolution” in full-page ads that appeared in Aspen’s two local newspapers Jan. 13 and 15, in response to growing public outcry over bills that in some cases go back as far as three years.Hospital CEO David Ressler said Monday that if an insurance company has denied a claim “because of our error, we will not hold that patient responsible for that bill.”In addition, Ressler said, the hospital has directed its collection agencies to hold off on the issuance of notices or other actions relating to the billing problems for three months.He also said that, although the announcement specified a 90-day window, the hospital will not simply renew its aggressive collection methods immediately on April 15 if all the billing questions aren’t straightened out.”But at the end of that roughly 90-day period, we are going to have to resume normal collections procedures,” he said, explaining that an estimated 1,000-plus accounts represent unpaid bills amounting to approximately $4.5 million.Ressler, along with the hospital’s board of directors, has been defending the facility’s billing scenario for weeks, ever since news reports began chronicling a growing number of problems hospital customers have cited.The controversy evoked memories of billing irregularities that plagued the hospital starting in the late 1990s and were factors in the dismissal of the hospital’s top two administrators in 2004.Ressler explained that the billing system in place at the time was out of date, using outmoded accounting systems and computer coding, resulting in some $12 million in bills never being sent out or collected.Starting in late 2004, he said, a complete overhaul of the billing system included the installation of new codes and systems so that by early 2006 the hospitals billing practices were up to date.According to Ressler, the hospital has now “resolved 93 percent of our outstanding bills,” and the remaining 7 percent are receiving the 90-day reprieve.”We’re not perfect,” Ressler said. “If we’ve made mistakes, we’ll correct them.” But he and other hospital officials have credited the current billing system with pulling the hospital out of the fiscal crisis that toppled the former administration.”It is now working properly,” he said, claiming that insurance companies reject less than 2 percent of the hospital’s bills.”If an insurance company denies a claim because our systems did not bill it timely enough, we will not hold the patient responsible,” Ressler said, adding, “We already have forgiven a number of them if it was our error.”Ressler cited as “a classic example of the people we’d like to have call us” those whose bills were “zeroed out” in the hospital’s records but later showed up as a collection. He urged customers to call the hospital’s billing “help line,” 544-7694, and talk with either Debby Essex or Ed Lockliear, two specialists working on the problems.He said the hospital has not hired more help yet to deal with the roughly 40 calls per day coming in on the help line but added, “If we need more, we’ll get more.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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