BELMONT — At the request of the Board of Selectmen, Fire Chief David Parenti is preparing a full accounting of the ambulance service in an effort to stem the increase in outstanding unpaid charges, which has risen from $188,041 in April 2011 to $410,240.
The proceeds from ambulance services are deposited in a special revenue account for the purchase of equipment for the fire and emergency medical services, any shortfall in revenue will ultimately be shouldered by property taxpayers. Parenti laid a significant share of the responsibility for the outstanding debt at the feet of insurance companies.
Parenti explained that the department, like many others in New Hampshire, contracts with Comstar, a Massachusetts billing service, which mails the invoices and collects the payments. He said that Comstar bills private insurance companies, Medicare, Medicaid and workers compensation carriers as well as private individuals and collects the payments. Parenti calculated that the collection rate approaches 70 percent.
Comstar, Parenti said, seeks to collect unpaid bills, but after a reasonable time refers the most delinquent and stubborn to First Financial Resources, a collection agency, or to the Belmont Fire Department. Some individuals enroll in payment plans while others may file a "hardship request," asking the Selectboard to forgive the charges. Parenti said that there are "not a lot" of hardship requests and legitimate requests are rarely denied. So far the town, unlike others in the state, has not turned to the small claims court.
Parenti said that the biggest problem arises from insurance companies that send payments to the insureds, who simply cash the checks, but not to the town, which is left out-of-pocket. State law (RSA 415:18-v) reads "Each insurer that issues or renews any policy of group or blanket accident or health insurance that constitutes health coverage and that provides benefits for medically necessary ambulance services shall reimburse the ambulance service provider directly or by a check payable to the insured and the ambulance service provider subject to the terms and conditions of the policy, plan, or contract."
"It's not a legislative issue," said Parenti. "It's an enforcement issue. It's frustrating, difficult and costly." As president of the New Hampshire Association of Fire Chiefs, Parenti said that departments across the state are wrestling with the issue.
- Category: Local News
- Hits: 857