Sarasota County is writing off more than $3.5 million worth of unpaid bills. It’s part of an annual exercise to balance the county’s books but does not mean that the county will stop trying to collect the uncollected debt.
Almost all of the money, $3.1 million, comes from patients who have failed to pay their emergency medical bills, such as those for ambulance service.
When people have health insurance, Sarasota Emergency Services collects payment from an insurance company or Medicare and Medicaid, but, in some cases, a deductible or co-payment is required. When those costs go unpaid, the county is forced to write off the debt.
The county collection rate for emergency services is 70%.
Sarasota County’s Assistant Fire Chief Mary Boutieller said that’s much better than the state average.
The county’s emergency services department uses a third-party collection agency, which serves 60 other jurisdictions across the state.
The collection agency told Boutieller that the average collection rate for its other clients is 59%.
Collection rates in Sarasota County had been improving over the past few years but suffered a setback this year.
Just three years ago, the rate had increased to 78%. At the time, there was slightly more than $1 million in unpaid emergency-services bills.
“Economic challenges and the unemployment rate have affected it (this year),” said Boutieller.
The $3.1 million in unpaid emergency-services bills made up the bulk of the county’s uncollected debt, but there were other unpaid bills, including:
• $367,137 in unpaid water and sewer bills
• $14,341 in unpaid planning and development bills
• $579 in overpayment to a former employee, who has failed to repay
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