WINDHAM – Town councilors decided Tuesday night to write off some of Windham’s $224,125 in unpaid bills for ambulance service and hire a collection agency to chase down delinquent accounts dating back to 2006.

The fees are owed by nearly 500 people who have not made payments. Councilors debated whether to write off the entire sum, send it all to a collection agency or send a portion of it to a collection agency.

Some of the accounts go back as far as 1998, said Brian Wolcott, the town’s finance director. He questioned whether it would be fair for a resident to be billed for services after 10 years with no communication from the town.

The council voted 7-0 to send all unpaid bills dating back to July 1, 2006, to a collection agency. The rest will be written off.

Town Manager Tony Plante said people who can’t afford to pay their bills will be able to fill out hardship waiver forms.

“There hasn’t been a consequence for not responding” in the past, Plante said after the council’s vote. “We need people to respond with insurance information, a payment, or a hardship request.”

The town has a contract with Medical Reimbursement Services in Windham to bill insurance companies and collect any unpaid fees. Company Vice President Shawn McPherson said in an interview Monday that patients who don’t have health insurance can make payments of as little as $5 a month toward ambulance fees.

The company sends patients six billing statements, including a hardship request form in the last statement. Following Tuesday’s vote by the council, the company will send unpaid bills to a collection agency if patients fail to respond.

Former Town Councilor Liz Wisecup spoke against the proposal to send unpaid bills to a collection agency. Wisecup was on the council in 2006 when it cleared another $227,000 in unpaid fees from the books.

Wisecup argued that if unpaid bills were sent to a collection agency, residents would likely take a car to the hospital instead of being charged about $400 to be transported in an ambulance. She told councilors that it’s unfair to change the rules on residents.

Council Chairman William Tracy urged residents who can’t afford medical services to contact Fire Chief Charlie Hammond to discuss a hardship waiver.

“We would be happy to help people work through that process with dignity,” Tracy said. “I wish no one had to use an ambulance. I also wish we had all sorts of money to pay for this. The reality is that this costs money . . . and we need to do something to make sure that we have the essential services to cover the town.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]