June 13, 2006 in City

$80,000 AMR fine proposed

Staff writer
 

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession proposed Monday fining American Medical Response $80,172 for overbilling patients, just hours after the firefighters union said such a “five-figure fine” would be insignificant.

“The fine represents 25 percent of the total overcharge of customers,” Hession said in a statement late Monday.

“This fine is significant enough to express our serious concern about the multiple billing errors that occurred and sufficiently measured to acknowledge the professional manner in which AMR responded to this issue,” the mayor said.

As provided in the current contract, a public hearing on the AMR fine will be held. It will be at 10 a.m. June 23 at City Hall unless the ambulance chain agrees to the penalty.

AMR executive Randy Strozyk, who works in the company’s regional headquarters in Seattle, couldn’t be reached for comment immediately.

The announcement from the mayor came about two hours after Firefighters Local 29 urged him to levy a “significant fine” against AMR, which has an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service inside the city.

“Why would anyone ever pay a dollar to park a car if the penalty for not paying was only a dime?” said the statement from Local 29.

The union responded to a statement last week from Fire Chief Bobby Williams, who suggested AMR should be assessed a fine of “five figures.”

“Future patient overbilling will not be prevented so long as the penalties are slight and the potential for being caught is remote,” said the union statement issued by Local 29 President Greg Borg.

The Spokane Fire Department collects $25,000 a month from AMR to administer the contract and periodically monitor patients’ bills.

“Oddly, the Fire Department administration has retained almost no records of these alleged checks because of a lack of filing space,” the union statement said.

During a City Council subcommittee investigation this spring, AMR admitted it had overcharged at least 881 individuals and an undisclosed number of insurance providers, including Medicare. The subcommittee began examining the AMR contract after the firefighters union publicly raised various issues.

The contract allows a $1,000 fine for the first offense, $3,000 for the second and $5,000 for each violation thereafter. So the total fine could have exceeded $4 million, based solely on the number of overcharged patients in the past two years alone.

The subcommittee’s work also included an examination of AMR response times under the contract in face of allegations that the ambulance company would rather pay fines than put more ambulances on the street.

In addition, the restocking of AMR ambulances with certain supplies and narcotics purchased by the Fire Department was ended as a result of the subcommittee’s work.

In a separate Superior Court lawsuit, certified as a class action, AMR is being accused of overbilling as many as 30,000 patients living in Spokane since October 1998.

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