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Bad dept plagues rescue squad, Massena Hospital

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MASSENA - A member of the Massena Volunteer Rescue Squad’s Board of Managers says the unit saw a dramatic decrease in its reimbursements last year.

Rescue squad board member Roger M. Bennett told the Massena Town Council that reimbursements for 2012 were at only 37.53 percent. That’s a significant decrease from 2011, when the rescue squad received 64.3 percent reimbursements for its emergency services.

“I know we won’t recover 100 percent (of what we bill), but they’re not paying like they used to pay,” Mr. Bennett said. “I’ve never had reimbursements this low.”

The lower rate of reimbursements are a serious concern for the rescue squad, a volunteer service that relies on insurance reimbursements for funding. Mr. Bennett said the squad had budgeted for $450,000 in reimbursements last year, but they ended up being reimbursed $363,530. Noticing the sharp decrease in revenue, Mr. Bennett said the squad curtailed spending on new equipment, which resulted in the rescue squad underspending its 2012 budget of $449,000 by $83,000.

“When the funds were down, we backed off on buying equipment,” Mr. Bennett said. “(Though) I don’t think there’s anything we missed that was critical. If we needed (a piece of equipment), we would put it in the budget and buy it.”

Mr. Bennett noted there is an approximately three-month lag between when the rescue squad’s services are utilized and when the insurance company reimbursements come in, so it’s possible some of the reimbursements from end-of-the-year calls have yet to come in. However, Mr. Bennett said, “As of now, I don’t think our (total revenue) will be modified too much (by pending reimbursements).”

The sharp curve in reimbursements came during one of the rescue squad’s busiest years. The squad responded to 2,312 calls and provided 1,853 transports, an increase of about 60 percent since 2006 when the squad responded to 1,441 calls.

Mr. Bennett is afraid that if reimbursement rates don’t pick up, the rescue squad might not be able to purchase essential equipment in years ahead. “In future years if we cannot get 50 percent (or more in) reimbursements, it will impact our purchase of equipment, radios, mortgage payments, insurance. All those bills have to be paid.”

A lack of reimbursements for medical service, otherwise known as “bad debt,” has long been an issue hurting the finances of Massena Memorial Hospital. In 2012, MMH wrote off approximately $3.2 million of bad debt, during a year when MMH generated a net loss of almost $2.4 million, according to Tina R. Corcoran, senior director of Public Relations and Planning for MMH.

“If you look at the bottom line for 2012 … if it wasn’t for that (bad debt), we would have been $800,000 in the black,” Ms. Corcoran said.

MMH has experienced annual bad debt of around $3.2 million for the past three years, which is more than what it used to be. In 2007, MMH’s bad debt was approximately $2.5 million, according to Sean Curtin, chief financial officer for MMH. Bad debt comes from providing medical care to people who don’t have insurance or to people who have insurance but do not pay their co-pays or deductibles.

Ms. Corcoran said bad debt is an issue facing hospitals across the region and the country.

“I’m sure (other hospitals in the region) are dealing with (bad debt),” Ms. Corcoran said. “It’s hard. We have to do more with less.”

She said it’s the responsibility of MMH and all hospitals to provide care to patients, regardless of whether they can pay.

“We still have to take of the people in our community. It’s what we do,” she said.

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