Column: Finding hell in the Valley View billing office
“Anywhere but Valley View!”
A friend of mine said he plans to get one of those medical-alert bracelets made that says just that. I want one too.
My friend and I and others living in Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have plenty of complaints about the hospital.
Our gripes aren’t about service. The care by doctors and nurses at Valley View appears to be competent, and I’m sure a handful of the practitioners there are top notch. It’s a decent-sized facility too, recently rebuilt to house a cancer center and other services.
The constant complaint with Valley View is about pricing and billing. Indeed, it wouldn’t take much work to round up a posse of burned and overbilled former patients.
Valley View’s billing department will put you into collections in the blink of an eye, if you miss a few monthly payments or send less each month than demanded. I know from personal experience — Valley View sent me to collections after I caught it overbilling me.
In my case, I was sent to collections several months after I found the hospital double-billed me for nearly $900. When challenged, Valley View recalculated my bill and told me I owed them even more than before the error was found.
No, really. I found a $900 error, and the hospital had the gall to say it changed the insurance calculations and I would need to pay approximately $200 more than I was previously billed.
I argued the bill, to no avail. I expressed my understandable doubts that I owed Valley View more after nearly $12,000 in billings from the hospital and its affiliates, over half of which I paid out of pocket. The billing office insisted however, despite the err of its ways.
I was besides myself with anger and frustration. Hospital workers stopped returning my calls. I stopped paying for a few months, and the next thing I know the hospital sent me to collections. It’s humiliating and expensive to end up in collections.
My friend in 2013 ended up owing several thousand to Valley View, and began paying what he could. He has been contacted by the hospital’s collections agency twice, once for missing a single payment and once for no reason at all. Pushing back and forcing the billing department to undo its actions has been time-consuming and frustrating for him, but he feels it’s absolutely necessary to protect his credit rating.
Valley View’s billing department and its systems mess with people’s lives. It shouldn’t be this difficult.
Another common complaint with Valley View is prices. People often feel bilked when they leave the place, especially if they have anything short of a gold-standard insurance plan.
The facts show that Valley View is the most expensive hospital in the region, even compared with hospitals in the tony resorts of Aspen and Vail.
I developed a cost comparison using the Colorado Hospital Association’s 2013 hospital pricing report. You can find it here: http://cha.fhsclearquote.com. These prices are for services rendered in 2013, so we’re not really out of date.
The comparison includes the five hospitals within driving distance: Aspen Valley, Valley View, Grand River in Rifle, Vail Valley Medical Center and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.
It compares prices for 17 different ailments/medical services. They come from across the spectrum, ranging from childbirth and newborn care to chest pain to joint replacement to pulmonary obstruction to digestive disorders to kidney and urinary tract infections.
My selections were based in part on frequency of occurrence — requiring billing information for at least three of the five hospitals in the group.
The Colorado Hospital Association’s report breaks pricing for each service into three levels: the 5th percentile for those charged at the least (presumably requiring the least amount in services), the average price, and the 95th percentile, which are the most expensive billings for a particular treatment.
At the 5th percentile, Valley View was the most expensive hospital in the region in 10 categories and second most expensive five categories. Remember, there are only 17 categories being compared here.
In terms of average costs, Valley View was the most expensive hospital in nine of the billing categories, and second most expensive in five.
At the 95th percentile, Valley View was the most expensive in five billing categories, and second most expensive in seven more.
Wow! Valley View is the most expensive or the second most expensive hospital in a majority of cases at every level of billing.
So let’s not pretend that Valley View is a small-town hospital that provides for its charges with understanding and flexibility. The people running our hospital won’t trade services for a dozen eggs and a basket of apples from your backyard farm. They don’t want your produce or your excuses. They just want your money.
Allyn Harvey writes a monthly column for the Post Independent. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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