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L.A. fire's paramedic billing to be updated

August 3, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Los Angeles Fire Department's paramedics aid the injured and save lives. They are dispatched 500 times a day and it is costing the city.Basic transport to a hospital is $800, and it's $1,300 for advanced life support.

It creates a blizzard of paperwork. EMT's logging data about each call, each patient and insurance information. With a form, the city is supposed recover costs by billing the patient, but it falls far short.

In 2009, the city issued $151 million in bills. It recovered $58 million, just over a third of the total.

The city's proposal is an electronic tablet to avoid problems deciphering handwritten notes.

"What I can tell you is our billing cycle would improve from 40 days almost down to 5 days," said L.A. city fire Batt. Chief Ronnie Villanueva.

City leaders liked that idea, but questioned and second part of the proposal, which was outsourcing the billing process to a firm in Texas. Leading the outcry are the firefighter labor unions.

"You have been furloughing the people who collect the bills, that's the problem here," said Pat McOsker, president of the Los Angeles city firefighters union. "Stop furloughing the bill collectors."

Fire officials said the system will protect the city from lawsuits, especially with newly revised Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act laws that protect patient privacy.

"You look at Kaiser, you look at Cedars-Sinai, they all outsource their billing component to someone else and that's primarily because of their exposure to HIPAA," said L.A. Fire Chief Millage Peaks.

The measure passed 9 to 5 with the assurance that city workers who do billing now would not lose their jobs, but be transferred to fill vacancies.