Eagle County cardiac rehab patients upset over fees
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado – For Patricia Riggin, the cardiac rehab program at the Vail Valley Medical Center has been “a life saver.”
Her doctor referred her to the program because she suffers from pulmonary hypertension and blood clots in her lungs.
Since she signed up for the program in January, the West Vail resident said she has lost 40 pounds and weaned herself off oxygen during the day.
“It’s been a miracle for me,” she said.
But come next month, Riggin, 74, says she will no longer be able to afford the program. She’s among seven patients who signed a letter opposing a 400 percent fee increase set to go into effect Nov. 1.
“Several of us talked about it and we were shocked by the magnitude of the increase,” Vail resident and program participant Rich Selph said.
Selph received a letter telling him the fees for the program are rising from $41 to $160 per month for people who attend two sessions per week. The fees are going from $61 to $240 for those who do the program three or four times a week. Fees apply to “phase three” patients – people who suffered heart events in the past or are high risk for heart attacks or other diseases. They walk on treadmills, ride stationary bikes and do other exercises tailored to optimizing heart condition and minimizing another heart attack, all under the guidance of exercise physiologists. Insurance doesn’t cover the phase three program, so patients pay out of pocket.
“Most people in the program feel a fee increase of that magnitude is prohibitive and would effectively kill the phase three part of the program,” Selph said.
Chief Financial Officer Charlie Crevling said the program operates at a financial loss, which is offset by other patient programs within the medical center. The hospital spends about $4 for every $1 it collects on the program, he said. Even with the fee increase, the hospital does not expect to recoup all of its costs for the program.
“To best serve the community [Vail Valley Medical Center] must act in a fiscally responsible matter,” Crevling said in the statement. “We are continuing to offer the Phase III Cardiac Rehab Program even though we are now asking participants to help further cover the cost.”
Like most medical facilities around the country, the hospital faces added economic pressure as visits increase at facilities like the Eagle Care Clinic, which sees a high number of indigent patients.
“The resources we have, the dollars we have, we need to spend to the best advantage,” Crevling said. “When we look at this compared to some of the other services, I think there’s a better opportunity for the community in taking those dollars we would be losing here and spending them on other things that benefit, such as an urgent care in Gypsum.”
The medical center continues to offer the phase three program even through most Medicare and private insurance companies have long since stopped covering them and many hospitals no longer provide them, Crevling pointed out.
Cindy Gilbert, an Eagle-Vail patient who has been in the program for six years, questions whether the hospital explored alternatives to increasing the fees, such as applying for grants or asking the Vail Valley Medical Center Foundation for funding.
“Were other items put on the Vail Valley Medical Center ‘chopping block’ before eliminating ‘local’ programs?” she and six other patients said in a letter to the editor.
Gilbert said she would have understood a more gradual fee increase but feels locals cannot afford the 400 percent jump.
“We can only hope the VVMC [board of directors] will not allow this to happen,” the letter said.
The program has been in place for 12 years. Currently, 25 patients are enrolled in the phase three program, exercise physiologist Sarah Giovagnoli said. Doctors refer patients to the program, and exercise physiologists oversee the fitness routines.
In a survey, patients awarded the program the highest satisfaction scores of all the program in the hospital in the first quarter of 2010, Giovagnoli said.
“After working at the program for over 10 years, I’m sad to see the changes in the program because we are losing our participants,” she said. “They will not be paying this increase to stay with us.
“Many of them have stated they will not really have a place to go exercise because they don’t feel comfortable in a recreation center program. They’ve stayed because it’s a medically based program with a staff that knows them.”
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.