American Medical Response, Spokane’s ambulance service provider, agreed to pay back just under $1 million, plus interest, received as a result of overbilling more than 12,000 Spokane residents over six years.
“We are pleased with the result for the citizens,” said attorney John Giesa, who represented clients in a class-action lawsuit initially brought by Lori Davis-Bailey, Lorraine and Doug Bacon and Tony Bamonte.
The settlement was reached in September just as the parties were starting jury selection for a trial that was expected to last more than two weeks. As part of the settlement signed Friday by Superior Court Judge Jerome Leveque, Giesa and his firm will receive $945,000 in attorney fees.
Under the agreement, signed by Seattle attorney Paul Dayton, AMR will be responsible for paying back $994,000 to cover the overbilled charges, plus interest, Giesa said.
Since 1999, American Medical Response has had an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service in the city of Spokane. Because city taxpayers fund Spokane Fire Department emergency medical services, city residents can be charged certain rates only if a fire paramedic accompanies the ambulance crew to a hospital.
At the core of the lawsuit was how AMR billed city residents who called 911 for emergency services. In many cases, AMR charged those customers under the more expensive “advanced life support” rate when they should have been charged the cheaper “basic life support” rate if a city fire paramedic was involved in the ride-in treatment.
When city officials first learned of the overbilling, AMR volunteered to refund $320,689.
Some of those refunds went to insurance companies and Medicare, which paid a portion of the bills resulting from the ambulance rides.
“AMR alleged in response that any claims arising under its contracts with the City of Spokane had been resolved through refunds directed by the City of Spokane and denied any liability to Plaintiffs under these contracts,” the agreement reads.
The new refunds cover – with interest – the portion of the bills individuals paid over and above the insurance and Medicare payments, Giesa said. Also, if the bills went to collections, the amounts owed to collection agencies will be reduced by the amount of the award.
As part of the agreement, any refunds to people who have died or who don’t collect the settlement money will go to the Spokane EMS Fund, which helps pay for emergency response.
“That way, city residents will benefit from any amounts that remain unclaimed,” Giesa said.
The city renewed the contract with AMR in 2008 despite the history of overbilling. Former mayor Dennis Hession fined AMR $80,000 but could have levied a heftier fine. Current Mayor Mary Verner questioned at the time whether Hession was too lenient.
AMR representatives previously have said that they changed their billing procedures to prevent future overbilling.