Every business with which I have financial dealings, save one, allows me to access my account online. I can check my balance, see when my next payment is due and in what amount, make and verify receipt of payments, and review new charges and credits in close to real time. My banks and investment firms, my credit card companies, my satellite TV and cell phone services, and my internet provider all provide online access to account information. I pay all my bills through my bank’s online bill pay system, in most cases via electronic transfer, and I no longer receive any bills through the U.S. Mail, they all come by email.
Except one: the bill from VA. And, because I travel all the time, it’s not just one VA bill, but separate bills for each facility from which I might have received care. When I’m traveling, it often takes more than a month for a paper bill to catch up with me.
My bank would be happy to pay VA with electronic funds transfers instead of checks, which would allow VA to receive its money faster and without all the paper, but VA, it appears, is unwilling to accept such transfers. Instead, it waits for a paper check to go through the mail, to be opened and processed by an actual human.
A first class stamp costs 44 cents. It’s got to cost at least 56 cents to buy the paper and envelopes for paper bills and to print the bills and to stuff them in envelopes and to open and process the paper payments, so I’m guessing that it costs VA at least a dollar to send me a paper bill and process the remitted payment. Emails are free. Let’s assume VA mails two million bills each month. That means VA is spending $24 million a year on unnecessary administrative costs instead of patient care. How much could it cost to set up an online accounting system cost? Certainly no more than $2 million, the cost of a single month’s invoices.
Lawrence Haun is a retired California lawyer now traveling in an RV throughout the western United States and Canada.