New debt collector to handle unpaid ER bills

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES – Some people probably have techniques for avoiding bill collectors – not answering the phone, blocking bill collector calls or claiming, “The check is in the mail.”

If a person were to put the shoe on the other foot, what is the best way to collect a debt?

Actually, there are methods that are more effective in collecting an overdue debt.

That is one reason the Naples Fire and Rescue Department (NFRD) has hired another bill collection company.

The NFRD has switched from Credit Bureau Collection Services (CBCS) Collections to First Financial Resources, according to Deputy Chief Mark Scribner.

Prior to making the move, Scribner asked for a recommendation from a representative at Medical Reimbursement, he said, adding he was pointed in the direction of First Financial.

On Monday, the Naples Board of Selectmen listened to why the switch was made.

“CBCS – they were charging a high rate, and they had a low return. We weren’t getting much back from them” in terms of old debts being resolved, Scribner said.

Also, on Monday, the board heard an explanation of how these debts are written off by the department and no longer listed as expected revenue in the town budget.

The board did not need to vote for the collection agency change to be made. But, the board did affirm the NFRD’s new policy regarding overdue bills.

Simultaneously, the selectmen voted to raise the town’s emergency service fees based on fees from surrounding towns. The vote was, 4-1, with Selectman Rich Cebra opposing.

“I don’t think we should raise rates to capture more money. And, I’ll leave it at that,” Cebra said after the meeting.

As it stands, the town is owed about $140,000 in past due emergency services bills, Scribner said.

“What is outstanding? We just wrote off another $44,000 to go to collections,” Scribner said.

That most recent, year-old debt was sent to First Financial, he said.

“What is on books with CBCS is $96,000. That is currently with the old collection company. They will close out those files and move them over to the new company,” Scribner said. “I am turning this over to First Financial.”

Chairman Jim Grattelo spoke.

“So, there is a good chance we won’t collect this $96,000,” Grattelo asked

Scribner said his experience has been that CBCS’s methods were not effective for getting people to pay their debts.

“I don’t like. They put people on a dialer. They determine the possibility of whether this person will pay, rather than do any work on the account,” he said.

“I wasn’t very happy with this company. There was not a set account manager. I would ask a question, get a different person each time, and get a different answer to the same question,” he said.

“Starting in January, they would have required us to do the data entry for them.”

“Every now and then, I get a check from them for $1250 or $100. It is not much,” he said.

Grattelo took the floor.

“It doesn’t make sense that we are going to write $40,000 or 50,000 a year. So, you are hoping this company will have better results.

They call three times a week. The account manager is very responsive,” he said.

Selectman Jim Turpin asked, “In terms of billable, what percentage do we get paid?”

Scribner estimated that about 70 percent of the old debt is recovered by the bill-collection agency.

The year-to-date emergency services debt that went to collections was $140,000; and the town received $78,000 in payments, Scribner said.

Interim Naples Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz – who may or may not have used a calculator – said, “That is 60 percent.”

During a phone interview on Tuesday, Chairman Grattelo said that The Town of Naples was not alone in carrying an unpaid debt from emergency service bills. It is a nationwide trend.

“Every community is facing this. Years ago, deductibles for insurance policies were small. Most patients achieved their deductible in a short amount of time. If they had a large ambulance bill, it was covered by insurance because they had met their deductible,” he said.

“Today, in order to keep insurance rates stable, people are electing to have higher deductibles. People have higher deductibles in order to keep premiums down or insurance companies are increasing the deductibles,” Grattelo said.

“Now what is happening, several ambulance bills are not being paid,” he said.






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