There’s a light at the end of AVH tunnel
January 18, 2007
Aspen, CO ColoradoWe were relieved this week when Aspen Valley Hospital announced a “90-day window for account resolution” with its patients. This was a welcome acknowledgment by the hospital’s board and management that the medical billing system has been flawed, and that attack-dog collection policies may not be the best approach.We do not question the need for the hospital to collect payment for services rendered. Everyone in the upper Roaring Fork Valley has a stake in a fiscally healthy public hospital.But it has taken several weeks, at least one lawsuit and a huge public outcry for AVH officials to back down from their aggressive collection tactics and from their insistence that they could not be at fault. This is, after all, a community hospital, and numerous bill recipients claim to have been taken completely by surprise – or to have been victimized by erroneous billing. Given the hospital’s recent history, we have to ask why officials took such an aggressive approach in the first place.We sincerely hope they’ll honor their advertised pledge to “allocate the resources to work with our patients to clarify and settle amounts due.” It’s certainly a good sign.Another bit of good news in this mess is that AVH isn’t facing the desperate situation it was in 2003. Apparently some 1,000 accounts amounting to $4.5 million are at stake here – a serious issue, certainly, but not one that jeopardizes the hospital’s very survival. It would behoove everyone to remember that these are unsettled accounts from 2004 and 2005. It is now early 2007. Many insurance companies simply won’t pay a bill that old, and we don’t believe it’s fair to expect patients to pick up the tab so long after the fact.In many cases, these patients received services from AVH with the reasonable expectation that their insurers would pay all or most of the costs. That expectation rests, of course, on AVH fulfilling its obligation to administer its bills in a timely and accurate way.Part of a fair approach to these unresolved accounts is for the hospital to chase after the insurers where possible, and then to be lenient with customers in cases where the hospital failed to send out timely and accurate bills.