AVH reviewing its billing practices | AspenTimes.com

AVH reviewing its billing practices

John Colson

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN Aspen Valley Hospital’s chief financial officer said this week that AVH’s budget doesn’t reflect as potential revenue the $1 million due to the hospital for old billing coding errors.”Accounts in collection are not here, because we wrote them off our books,” CFO Terry Collins said Monday at a hospital board meeting. Meanwhile, hospital officials said Tuesday that they have started an internal investigation into allegations that the billing system is malfunctioning.”We have to do our homework,” a hospital spokeswoman said.The hospital has been defending its billing practices, which were “outsourced” to a private contractor, since the near-bankruptcy of the hospital several years ago. Billing and collection practices have been the subject of numerous recent complaints by patients, as well as articles in local newspapers.Some patients say they have received notice from a collections agency without ever having received a bill for services from the hospital. Others said that after they contested questionable bills and received assurances that they had been canceled, they later received additional bills for the same amounts – or sometimes more.Collins and others have maintained that the hospital is acting properly, efficiently and in good faith as it pursues collection of charges for services dating as far back as 2004. Hospital representatives have asked people with questions to call special hotlines – 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.At present, Collins said, the hospital processes anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 bills per month depending on the season, which amounts to roughly $71 million in “gross revenues per year.”Collins’ remarks came in response to questions from board president John Sarpa during a discussion with local attorney Kay Honigman-Singer.As of the beginning of this week, Honigman-Singer told the board, she had talked with as many as 25 people with complaints about the hospital’s billing practices. She also has brought up the possibility of a class-action lawsuit against the hospital on behalf of customers who believe they have received inaccurate bills or improper dunning notices from collection agencies.Sarpa and other hospital representatives have said AVH is “current” with its bills for recent services. But because of a billing system meltdown several years ago, in which billing clerks “miscoded” some $12 million in bills that were never sent out as a result, the hospital is only now demanding payment for services that were rendered as much as three years ago.”We’re going to make some mistakes, for sure,” Sarpa admitted at Monday’s meeting. But there are fewer mistakes now, he maintained, and the hospital’s billing apparatus is “a heck of a lot more efficient than we used to be.”Board member John Jellinek, who said he has been going through some old bills to determine whether patients’ complaints are valid, reiterated Collins’ statement that “we have written off every single one of these old debts.”If the old debts have been written off, Honigman-Singer asked, and the accounts were zeroed out, “Why are there a whole slew of people now begging bills from A-1 Collection Agency and notices for accounts that supposedly were written off?”Because, Jellinek replied, “we’re working to try to collect what we’re owed.” Collins said such write-offs, coupled with continued collection efforts, are standard operating procedures in the accounting world.On Tuesday, after fresh headlines called further attention to the billings controversy, hospital officials initiated an internal investigation into the matter.”We need to do a little investigation of our own, some research of our own, into these allegations,” said spokeswoman Ginny Dyche.”We just want to make sure we know what all the facts are with regard to this billing issue,” CEO David Ressler added.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com