Hospital board defends billing practices |

Hospital board defends billing practices

John Colson

Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” It was decidedly not a meeting of the minds.

Snowmass Village attorney Kay Honigman-Singer told the Aspen Valley Hospital board Monday night that her clients are receiving inaccurate bills and improper dunning notices.

Hospital board members and staffers responded that in most cases such complaints are the result of the patients’ misunderstanding of the intricacies of the billing process, insurance payment systems and the multitiered nature of hospital accounting systems.

In the end, neither side prevailed, although board chairman John Sarpa conceded that though improved, the hospital’s billing system is “certainly not perfect.” He invited anyone with questions about a hospital bill to call one of two hotlines: financial counselor Debby Essex at 544-7694, or Ed Lockliear, an official with the hospital’s billing contractor, First Consulting Group, at (863) 205-3217.

But AVH Chief Finance Officer Terry Collins indicated that the hospital must be doing something right, given the fact that it has pulled itself back from financial ruin over the past two years. He reported the hospital has trimmed its accounts receivable from approximately five months in arrears a year ago to less than two months in arrears now, and that those overdue accounts are leftovers from what are known as “the dark days.”

Board member John Jellinek noted that the hospital has some $23 million in the bank today, compared to “just enough to meet the payroll” in late 2003 and early 2004, when the board of diectors fired the two top administrators and took over management of the facility.

The billing department, housed in Rifle but managed in-house by the administration, had “miscoded” some $12 million in bills and never sent them out, Jellinek said. These and other management miscues led to a fiscal crisis that nearly put the hospital in bankruptcy.

But Honigman-Singer persisted with her litany of questions Monday, asking why patients continue to receive what they believe are inaccurate statements of their accounts, why patients report getting statements that show differing amounts owed from one month to the next, and why patients say they cannot contact hospital staffers for help.

“Call us,” said hospital CEO David Ressler, offering to look into billing inaccuracies for Honigman-Singer himself and reminding her of the two hotlines.

“I’m the least of the problem,” Honigman-Singer replied, a reference to customers she said are worried about how billing problems will affect their credit reports (see related story).

Sarpa responded that the board and administration of the hospital have “taken, I think, quite a bit of responsibility” for the problems of the previous administration.

But, he added, when the hospital is owed money, “We should do everything we can do collect it, in a polite and courteous fashion.”

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