Sick over bad billing |

Sick over bad billing

Andy Stone

Aspen, CO ColoradoI was so angry I was having trouble punching the number into the phone. I was hitting the buttons so hard I was thinking I might break something – a button or a finger.That description alone should let you know exactly what topic I’m writing about – but just in case it doesn’t, I’ll give you another hint.I was calling Aspen Valley Hospital.In a blind rage.Aha!I’m writing about the hospital’s billing system.As a general rule, when I write about Aspen news, I’m not actively involved in the story; but this time it’s different. I am one of the victims – the many victims, apparently – of the criminally flawed billing system at Aspen Valley Hospital. Part of my rage was the normal anger at getting jerked around by a faceless bureaucracy. I’d already spent hours getting a variety of unhelpful answers from uninformed people scattered all over the country who were pretending they worked for my local hospital.But what pushed that normal helpless anger over the edge into sheer blind rage was a comment by a hospital official in that day’s paper. He said he’d heard about all the complaints, but every case he’d checked into had turned out to be the patient’s fault.In other words, his system’s working just fine – and we’re all a bunch of idiots. Or deadbeats.As I placed that phone call, I was looking at two notices from the hospital. One was a firm letter from the hospital’s “patient accounts” department. It was dated Dec. 28, and it demanded payment of $78.09 for a hospital visit on Sept. 12, 2005.The other was a regular hospital bill. It was for the same Sept. 12, 2005, visit. It had the same 10-character account number. It was dated Dec. 11. And it said I owed $29.38.In other words, just to be very, very clear (trying to speak in terms that even a hospital executive can understand), I had two different bills for two different amounts for exactly the same hospital visit – same date, same account number.Furthermore, the original charge had been $103. The hospital bill – the one that said I owed $29.38 – gave details of payments from the insurance company. There was one payment, more than a year before, that had taken care of $41.62. In other words, more than a year ago, that original bill had been knocked down from $103 to $61.38.But the hospital was trying to collect $78.09. (Gee, sounds almost criminal to me.)Now, I could dig into a lot of details here, but I won’t bog things down. Believe me, there’s a lot of background (and a lot of other bills and discrepancies), but I figured I’d better keep it simple.Instead, let me stop right now and say this:I love Aspen Valley Hospital.I think it is a wonderful place, filled with warm, caring, deeply committed men and women. I have, unfortunately, spent lots of time in lots of hospitals, and this is the one I would pick, hands-down. Sure, I know we don’t have all the capabilities of the big hospitals in the big cities – but the people here, particularly (sorry, docs) the nurses and the support staff, are extraordinary.Extraordinary.And, amazingly enough, that’s why this story might – might – have a happy ending.Because the number I called actually rang at Aspen Valley Hospital. And it was actually answered by an actual human being who lives and works here. And she was not some pipsqueak executive. She was someone who actually does a real job and who cares about what she does. (Instead of trying to save face by blaming others and making excuses.)She listened. She looked at the records. She admitted that there was no reasonable excuse or explanation for that $78.09 bill. She checked the entire account, straightened out a double-handful of bills, gave me a single total, took my credit card number and said she would personally post the payments to the proper accounts.Case (I hope) closed.We shall see. But here’s my bottom line: An out-of-town billing operation, selected by high-priced executives has created a thorough disaster.But, once again, the actual hospital staff (may have) saved the day.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is