AVH catches up on old bills | AspenTimes.com

AVH catches up on old bills

John Colson

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Billing problems at Aspen Valley Hospital, which once hinted at the hospital’s near demise because of fiscal irregularities, may not be the harbingers of doom they once were.But the arrival of old bills from long-ago services is once again riling the hospital’s customers.According to hospital spokeswoman Ginny Dyche, bills arriving months or even a couple of years after treatment is just a hangover from earlier difficulties.”We had literally thousands of old bills to go through, to catch up on,” Dyche said. A billing-system meltdown, along with other management problems, left the hospital saddled with $12 million in losses and approaching financial ruin in 2003.A new administration and a new hospital board have presided over a reversal of the facility’s financial decline, in large part because of greater efficiency in the billing arena.”We’re timely with recent bills,” Dyche maintained.But for Sharon Rolzin, a Basalt resident who has received insistent demands to cover medical charges months and even years after the fact, such statements are cold comfort.Rolzin, who has lived in the valley for 25 years, said she has received two rounds of bills from the hospital’s billing contractor, for services received much earlier. She called it “unsettling, because you can’t call the hospital, you can’t ask questions.”Last spring, she was billed for services received three years earlier. The bill amounted to “hundreds of dollars,” she said, and she paid it as soon as she received it.More recently she was contacted by a collection agency, regarding three outstanding bills for blood work that totaled $700.This latest incident, she said, was “insulting.” Neither the hospital nor the billing service sent notice before the dunning notice from the collection agency arrived in the mail, she said. She tried to call the hospital but was told she would have to call the collection agency in Grand Junction.”I just think it’s kind of a muddy mess,” she said. “I don’t think … three years later … they should have a collection agency calling you out of the blue.”Plus, she said, “I don’t think the hospital is being very cooperative.”In a similar vein, local attorney Rich Cummins sued the hospital because of what he has termed “harassment” over an old bill.”They kept billing me for something they should have billed me for,” Cummins said Friday. His son underwent surgery at AVH in 2005, and insurance coverage paid most of the charges, Cummins said. He never should have been charged an additional $5,000 or $6,000 that insurance didn’t cover, he said, because of a “provider discount” covered by certain insurance carriers.In the lawsuit he filed last month, Cummins asked a judge to order the hospital and the collection agency, Accounts Receivable Services LLC, to leave him alone. AVH’s Dyche said options are available to patients who receive unexpected bills or dunning notices from collection agencies.The hospital will set up a payment plans to make it as painless as possible for patients who want to pay their bills.”For us, the most important thing is for people to pay what they owe,” she added.Those with questions about their accounts, she said, can call financial counselor Debby Essex at the hospital, 544-7694, or Ed Lockliear, an official with the hospital’s billing contractor, First Consulting Group, at 863-205-3217. The hospital’s chief financial officer, Terry Collins, said Thursday that about $1 million in outstanding unpaid bills remain, some going back as far as 2004, “but none older than that.”In the past, they [outstanding bills] just didn’t get processed,” Collins said. “We’re trying to process them.”The hospital sent out its final wave of old bills this fall, alerting customers of the debt and offering a discount if the bill was dealt with promptly, Collins said.”They did get a notice … at least once, and most of them several times,” and then the matter went to a collection agency, Collins explained.The hospital gets calls from customers contesting the validity of a sudden, old bill, but Collins maintained, “I’ve not seen a lot of mistakes on the part of the hospital.”And most, he said, have paid the bill either promptly or under a payment plan.”I sympathize with their thinking, because nobody likes to get an old bill,” he said. “But the services were provided.”John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com