June 24, 2008 in City

Verner wants to retain AMR

Ambulance firm fined in 2006 for overcharging
By The Spokesman-Review
 
What’s next

The contract extension was scheduled for a vote on Monday but was delayed until next month for further legal review.

Despite facing heavy criticism in 2006 for overcharging patients, American Medical Response likely will remain the city of Spokane’s ambulance provider.

Mayor Mary Verner is recommending approval of a five-year contract extension for the company.

Fire Chief Bobby Williams said contract language was clarified and updated in several areas, including issues related to the overbilling problems. The new contract also will require AMR to conduct random patient surveys.

“Overall, we have done our best to try to make sure that we’ve taken care of any potential of that happening again,” Williams said.

The city’s contract with AMR expires at the end of October.

The firm became an issue in last year’s mayoral campaign after Verner questioned whether former Mayor Dennis Hession was too lenient on AMR after it revealed it overcharged patients and insurance companies $321,000 over two years. Hession fined AMR $80,000 but could have required a heavier fine.

The contract extension was scheduled for a vote on Monday but was delayed until next month for further legal review, said City Administrator Ted Danek.

Under the contract, AMR will pay the city $327,000 a year plus an amount for inflation that will be determined later. AMR’s charges for riding in an ambulance also will increase by inflation annually.

Ambulance rides cost $527.02 if paramedic care is needed, $382.09 if it isn’t, plus $17.57 a mile.

John Serben, AMR’s business development manager, said the company has changed its billing system since the problems were discovered.

“It’s unlikely that there would be another major overbilling issue again,” Serben said.

Verner soon plans to ask council members to pay for a study on the city’s medical response system, including an examination of turning over ambulance service to the Fire Department.

Williams says ambulance transport by city employees would increase the cost to taxpayers. Union officials disagree. Greg Borg, president of the Spokane Firefighters Union, said his group is not taking a position on the AMR contract. It is, however, opposed to entering into a countywide system.

Spokane officials are talking with the Spokane Valley Fire Department and other fire districts about the possibility of creating one countywide ambulance contract.

If that happens, the city could terminate the AMR contract up for consideration next month.

Borg said a countywide system likely would lower the rates for folks outside the city of Spokane and increase them inside city limits.

City Council President Joe Shogan said he’s waiting to see final numbers on a county system before making a judgment.


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