Spokane County Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque on Thursday ordered American Medical Response to turn over certain patient billing records to a team of private attorneys bringing a class-action lawsuit for overbilling against the ambulance company.
Since 1998, AMR has had an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service within the city of Spokane where as many as 35,000 to 40,000 patients may have been overbilled, attorney Roger Reed told the court.
The judge previously certified the case as a class action after the lawsuit was filed in December 2005 by two former AMR patients.
Reed went back to court Thursday, asking the judge for an order to compel AMR to give the plaintiffs a list of all patient billing information from 1998 through 2005 under two contracts the ambulance company had with the city.
AMR attorney Paul Dayton said collecting that information would be an expensive and time-consuming task and would violate provisions of the federal HIPPA law, which restricts the release of certain patient medical information.
Reed and co-counsel Adam Tate told the court that a protective order previously issued by the judge should allay any HIPPA concerns and allow the plaintiffs to develop a complete list of patients who may have been overbilled.
The city of Spokane, through “medical incident reports” filled out by its Fire Department paramedics, previously has released to the plaintiffs a list of patients who received treatment from its paramedics and AMR crews.
If a Fire Department paramedic accompanies a city of Spokane resident to the hospital in an AMR ambulance, the contract says the patient only can be charged for the less-expensive Basic Life Support (BLS) even if more-expensive Advanced Life Support (ALS) is administered. Medicare-regulated rates apply in other cases where overbilling may have occurred.
Three months after the suit was filed, AMR voluntarily did its own billing reviews and publicly admitted to overbilling city of Spokane residents $320,689 between 2003 and 2005.
The lawsuit seeks to expand that period from 1998 through 2005, and the plaintiffs’ attorneys want to do their own review of billing records for the 2003-05 time period.
The judge said he would sign an order directing AMR to release its billing records corresponding to the Fire Department’s medical incident reports already released to the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
“We think the city records are deficient in some regards,” Reed told the court.
The judge said he wanted the release of some AMR billing records – those matching the Fire Department records – to occur soon so the trial date won’t have to be postponed again.
If the plaintiffs believe other AMR billing records are needed after that release, the judge said he would revisit that issue.
He then agreed to postpone the trial date from Aug. 6 to Nov. 5.