Legal battle ahead at AVH? | AspenTimes.com

Legal battle ahead at AVH?

John Colson

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” A Snowmass Village attorney is considering a class-action lawsuit against Aspen Valley Hospital over its ongoing billing problems.

“I am telling my clients not to pay for any bills that are incorrect and over one year old,” said Kay Honigman-Singer.

A hospital spokesman said the problems stem from old bills that a previous administration didn’t deal with. The hospital’s new billing contractor is now handling them, and it is up to patients to respond to all notices within the specified time, said hospital Chief Finance Officer Terry Collins.

“If they do not respond to us, which many of them are not doing, we’re sending them to collections,” Collins said.

Honigman-Singer wrote in a e-mail that in recent months she has “had over 10 clients meet with me regarding AVH’s billing practices.” And in the wake of newspaper articles last week about billing problems, she has received calls from 15 more disgruntled AVH customers.

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In addition, she said, “I personally have an issue with AVH’s billing practices.”

The clients, she said in a telephone interview on Monday, are not simply confused by the bills.

“The people who are calling me are worried about their credit,” she explained, citing “very ominous and threatening” letters the hospital’s collection agency has sent out.

What’s more, her clients say that they are unable to get any help from AVH.

“They can call and call and call,” Honigman-Singer said, “and get no response.”

While she has not yet taken any legal action, Honigman-Singer was “impressed” when news stories revealed that another local attorney, Richard Cummins, had filed for a cease and desist order in Pitkin County Court. Cummins’ goal is to get the hospital and its agents to stop sending him what he claims are inaccurate bills, an approach Honigman-Singer called “very creative.”

She said she is waiting to see what happens with her clients’ cases, and said that if they are not resolved and the number of clients continues to rise, “at this rate there may be enough plaintiffs for a class action suit.”

Aside from her clients’ problems, Honigman-Singer said she has battled the hospital for more than two years about inaccurate bills regarding treatments for her and her daughter.

At one point in 2004, AVH’s physical therapy department refused to treat her daughter because of what the hospital said was more than $12,000 in outstanding medical bills. At the same time, she told the hospital board in September 2004, she received a bill, dated Aug. 5, 2004, that stated she owed $253.20. And a follow-up statement, dated Sept. 5, 2004, indicated she had no outstanding charges, Honigman-Singer said.

She had to cancel an October 2004 meeting with hospital CEO David Ressler to go over her billing questions because of an unexpected health crisis, she said.

Last year, Honigman-Singer wrote in an e-mail to The Aspen Times that she received a bill dated Feb. 6, “indicating I owe $7,494.29 for my outpatient back surgery in October 2004. I call the billing department and once again I am told that their billing department made a mistake and it will be taken care of.” Subsequent notices, in July and August, indicated that her balance had dropped to zero, she continued.

“Then, to my surprise, I get an A-1 Collection Agency letter dated Sept. 7, 2006, stating our lovely community hospital has referred my account to them for $8,486.41,” wrote Honigman-Singer.

“The irony is, that those charges were from that very day” when she was supposed to meet with Ressler but ended up in surgery, Honigman-Singer said.

The common thread through all of this is that the hospital is relying on strong-arm tactics to collect old bills, whether the bills are accurate or not, she said.

“And that’s not something that a community hospital is supposed to do. The collection agency only cares about its commission. They don’t care about right or wrong. What they do is they try to scare people … and they hope they’ll wear you down and you’ll pay.”

Collins, somewhat exasperated about the billing controversy, reiterated sentiments he expressed in earlier news stories, saying, “I’m looking at every one of these complaints … and I can’t remember the last time I saw one that was valid.”

He conceded that patients don’t understand the nature of the payment process between the hospital and insurance companies, and “don’t know if they have an accurate bill or not. We’ve got to handle these one at a time … the only way we’re going to resolve this is to get people to call up and talk to someone about their bill.”

People with questions about their accounts can call financial counselor Debby Essex at the hospital, 544-7694, or Ed Lockliear with the hospital’s billing contractor, First Consulting Group, at (863) 205-3217.

John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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