EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 3, 2014

Salem selectman's family issue spurs debate

Billing error raises questions

By Doug Ireland

---- — SALEM — An ambulance billing error involving Selectman Stephen Campbell’s mother prompted a dispute over whether the issue should have been raised at a public meeting.

But Campbell insists it is a public issue and said he’s concerned other Salem residents could also be billed mistakenly.

Campbell surprised fellow selectmen Monday night when he suddenly rose from his seat and stepped up to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting, which became heated.

“It has nothing to do with me as a selectman,” he said. “Unfortunately, my family has had to use the ambulance a number of times. Every single time, it has been taken care of by insurance.”

After Margery Campbell was taken to the hospital Jan. 17, Medicare refused to pay the $1,111 bill, even though it paid for several other ambulance transports in the past, he said.

A mistake was made; Medicare eventually paid all but $94. Neither Campbell nor the town know how the error occurred, but he said Cigna — the town’s secondary insurance carrier — should have paid the remainder and it did not.

Campbell’s elderly mother receives health insurance through the town because his father, who is deceased, worked for the Salem Police Department.

Campbell said he contacted the company hired by the town, Comstar Ambulance Billing Service, to question the bill and didn’t receive any answers. He was irate.

“How many people in this town have gotten a bill through this company that they didn’t owe?” Campbell said. “I’m concerned people are being billed for things.”

Town Manager Keith Hickey said Campbell approached him about the issue and he defended Comstar. Campbell should have contacted the insurance providers, but he refused to do so, Hickey said.

“With regard to Comstar, I will vehemently deny most of the comments made by Selectman Campbell,” Hickey said. “Comstar could not comment on this because of HIPAA.”

The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act prohibits the release of personal information about patients.

Hickey said he looked into Campbell’s complaint and found that Cigna would pay the rest of the bill. The town manager said the billing issue was a personal matter that shouldn’t be addressed at a public meeting.

“I’m sorry to take up the board’s time on this matter, which I don’t think belongs in public session,” Hickey said.

But Campbell insisted it was a public issue and that other Salem residents could be billed erroneously.

“My concern is someone else would just pay this,” he said. “I have a right as a citizen to come in front of you.”

After Hickey was allowed to respond and Campbell given a second chance to speak, Selectmen’s Chairman Patrick Hargreaves terminated the discussion.

“We are going to drop it and not go any further with this,” he said.

Hickey and Hargreaves said yesterday that although Campbell had a right to address the board as a resident, he should have resolved the issue through the insurance companies, not the town. They did not know of anyone else who had problems with Comstar.

“It would have been nice if he exhausted all other options before coming to the board, which has limited authority,” Hickey said.