Befuddled with billing |

Befuddled with billing

Su Lum

Aspen, CO ColoradoWell, here we go again with Round Two of a billing fiasco at Aspen Valley Hospital, which we thought and were assured had been all cleaned up after Round One five or six years ago, when the heads that rolled included those of the CEO and the CFO, as well as a number of innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of cutbacks.There is also a sense of déjà vu in that AVH authorities came out swinging when attorney Richard Cummins got so fed up trying to deal with the billing department that he filed a lawsuit against the hospital. Representatives from the hospital acted as if Cummins were just one bad apple, the billing system was running perfectly smoothly, thank you, and those with any gripes were just deadbeats.Not only that, they claimed that they were just cleaning up a mess dating back to 2004, it now being 2007 and 2004 being well past the time when we had already been assured that everything was tickety-boo in the finance department.Then letters to the editor came flooding in saying, “Hey, me too!” and me, and me, and me and me and the board, not wanting another clean sweep, backpedaled and, without admitting direct culpability, ran full-page ads of “explanation” and gave the public a “90-day grace period” to settle their accounts, with extra personnel hired to take the licks.I will be the first to say that the AVH billing system is way better than it used to be, but I will also be the first to say it still sucks.Here’s how it works. You get a nicely itemized bill from AVH immediately after receiving any treatment there. In my case this bill says payment due: $0 because it is expected to be paid by my insurance. If my insurance doesn’t pay all of it, I then get a bill for the remainder with no explanation at all what it’s for.This is all very well if you’ve only had one hospital encounter, such as a smashed toe, but can be daunting for someone like me who has numerous encounters.Then, and a lot of the wrath is about this, the moment that you receive this unitemized bill the phone rings and an unintelligible voice asks to confirm your identity with your date of birth and Social Security number. Who will respond amiably to that?It is not India, but I cannot imagine what rocks have been turned over to find these people who, if you manage to understand them, are hostile and completely uninformed about anything other than, “You owe this much money, you will pay.” Hey, they’re bill collectors.It is completely fruitless to engage these callers in conversation or to try to state your case. My solution is to say, “I am working this out with Stacy at Aspen Valley Hospital,” at which they back off, and then I go up and see Stacy, who has always been very helpful, and fortunately none of my bills (I hope) go back beyond the statute of limitations.My further advice would be that you not call the numbers listed in the AVH ad, which are not in Colorado (or even close), but to go directly to the source so that no one can deny that you exist.During Round One, I suggested to the then-CFO that she take a day trip to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, sit down with their accounting department and ask how they did things. I spent more than a month in St. Mary’s, ran up humongous bills and can attest that they have their shit together.Su Lum is a longtime local who is disappointed that her advice was ignored. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.