Anyone who gets hurt or falls ill in the village of Oak Park and requires an ambulance ride to the hospital won’t have to worry about an unpaid bill damaging their credit.
That’s the way Oak Park has operated in the past and, following a village board meeting last week, will continue to do business in the future.
The Oak Park Board of Trustees considered changing that for non-residents in an effort to recoup some of the $1 million-plus balance for unpaid non-resident charges since 2016.
Oak Park currently uses Andres Medical Billing, Ltd., for ambulance billing, which does not send unpaid bills to collection agencies.
Village staff proposed hiring a new billing contractor that would send non-residents’ unpaid bills to a collection agency.
Trustees voiced concern over the possible change at a board meeting on Jan. 29, but village staff returned with a proposal to go forward with the change, which might have resulted in damage to the credit ratings of non-Oak Parkers who fail to pay.
Trustee Andrea Button said she supported sending the unpaid bills to collections agencies, after learning that it would not affect people on Medicare or Medicaid.
“The need to collect on this outweighs the concern about collection companies going after people,” she said. “People are responsible for their medical bills at the end of the day.
“As long as we’re not impacting the most vulnerable people, then I think I’m OK with this.”
Trustee Simone Boutet said she opposed the plan to start sending unpaid bills to collections, noting that those without insurance would be targeted by the change.
“That’s something that I’m absolutely not comfortable doing,” she said, calling it “too heavy handed.”
Trustee Deno Andrews asked how effective collections were on unpaid bills. Oak Park Chief Financial Officer Steven Drazner said that of the four vendors that responded to a request for proposals for the ambulance billing contract, the two that sent unpaid bills to collections had a similar collection rate as the two that did not – roughly 15 to 20 percent.
“To me that suggests that we should not be putting that extra burden on anybody,” Andrews said. “If the efficacy is the same amount, then we should try without reporting to credit.”
Trustees agreed upon learning that going the collections route would unlikely result in more paid bills.
Trustee Dan Moroney said he agreed that the bills should not be sent to collections if they don’t produce a higher paid rate, but added, “It is part of the stewardship of taxpayer dollars to ensure that services that we render are paid for.”
The board reached consensus to direct staff to return with more information about the two vendors that do not send unpaid bills to collections agencies and return with a recommendation. Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb was not present.