‘That’s a lot of unpaid bills’: Uncollected bills top $1.2 million for Baraboo Ambulance Service
BARABOO, Wis. — Uncollected bills for the Baraboo District Ambulance Service are mounting, ending up ranging between $1.2 and $1.5 million for past services rendered.
The ambulance service is postponing purchases and dipping into cash reserves as it and the commission that oversees it consider solutions.
Chief and EMS Director Dana Sechler said unpaid bills have been a growing issue for years, and some of the reasons behind it reach beyond Baraboo.
For the ambulance service, responding to emergencies is every day work.
“It really saves lives,” Sechler said. “Helping that person in the time of need. It happens to be an emergency situation, but that’s what brings a smile to my face.”
It’s dealing with collections that can be the hard part.
“There’s always been difficulties in the billing world in getting payments paid, and it’s continuing to get progressively worse and worse, in my opinion,” Sechler said, adding that when he started with the service a decade ago, the uncollected bills were at about $600,000.
It was a cause for alarm when it reached double that a few months ago.
“Because we began using reserves we felt it appropriate to alert the commission,” Sechler said.
“Well, that’s a lot of unpaid bills,” Baraboo city administrator Ed Geick said.
The city of Baraboo is one of several other communities creating the ambulance district and the largest, with about a two-third stake in the service.
“People are concerned and working on this,” Geick said. “This is not something that can be let go.”
Geick said it will be up to the commission overseeing the service to find answers.
“Why was there such a big uncollectable bills here?” he said. “Why was it let go for so long and how are we going to fix the situation?”
Instead of patients, Sechler said most unpaid bills are owed by insurance companies, some which offer to pay less than the billed claim, but more quickly.
“We typically say no, we won’t accept the discount, we want the full amount. That can delay it 60, 90, 120 days plus,” he said. “Once you get into it, you’re like, I can’t believe this is the way the insurance industry is.”
He also pointed to Medicare and Medicaid, which often don’t come close to covering services, and the fact that the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates haven’t been increased in more than 10 years.
Sechler he has been working with groups for years encouraging the Capital to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates.
“This is a statewide issue and nationwide issue, for sure,” he said.
Sechler said as other ambulance services run into similar hurdles, he hopes changes for the Baraboo Ambulance Service can get them back they need to be.
“If I could wave my magic wand, when a bill is submitted to a payer, insurance company or whoever, that they pay the entire amount and within a reasonable time period,” he said.
The ambulance service is proposing opening a line of credit to cover costs if need be.
Sechler also said one of the service’s billing staff members who has been away on military service for a year has now returned and they’ve hired another part-time biller.
The ambulance commission will discuss the issue at its planned meeting Wednesday.
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