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AMR billing lawsuit is going to mediation

A class-action lawsuit brought against a company with a monopoly contract for ambulance service in the city of Spokane is headed to mediation.

Attorney D. Roger Reed, representing as many as 30,000 Spokane residents who may have been overbilled by American Medical Response since 1998, confirmed Wednesday he and an attorney for AMR will sit down Friday with mediator Gary Bloom.

Reed declined to specify the amount of damages he will request from the ambulance company at the mediation session.

AMR’s attorney, Paul Dayton, of Seattle, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Three months after the class-action suit was filed in December 2005, the ambulance company admitted it had overbilled some Spokane residents between 2003 and 2005.

The company said it was making refunds totaling $320,689 to patients, their insurance companies or Medicare for those overbillings. Mayor Dennis Hession later fined the company $80,172 – a fraction of what AMR could have faced under the city contract for overbilling.

Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque, who is assigned the lawsuit, was told about the mediation session at a hearing last week.

The judge instructed Reed and Dayton to return to court Oct. 19 for a status conference if the suit isn’t settled through mediation.

The lawsuit currently is set for a jury trial Nov. 5, but likely will be postponed, possibly until next year.

The ambulance company has been unwilling or unable to produce a computer list of patients it has served in Spokane since 1998 when it was awarded the first of two consecutive contracts to provide ambulance service, Reed said.

He has asked AMR to provide a computerized list of the names and addresses of patients it admitted overbilling between 2003 and 2005, but the company can only produce lump-sum checks issued to insurance companies and Medicare, Reed said.

Even those who received refunds would be eligible for additional damages under the state’s Consumer Protection Act, which is a component of the lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ attorney said.

Its exclusive contract inside the city gives AMR a leg up on providing ambulance service to Spokane Valley and other outlying communities in Spokane County where ambulance rates aren’t regulated. Several fire districts, however, are working with the Spokane Fire Department to develop a countywide contract that could materialize when AMR’s contract with the city of Spokane expires next year.

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