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L.A. Council to broach outsourcing of collections for emergency medical services

July 14, 2010 | 12:33 pm

Los Angeles officials face opposition from organized labor and some City Council members over a proposal to contract out billing and collections for the fire department's emergency medical services.

The proposed outsourcing is bundled with a popular initiative to move to electronic collection of medical data by the emergency medical services unit.

The proposal would give paramedics hand-held electronic tablets in which they could store patients' medical information at the scene of an emergency, eliminating the current system of hand-printed forms that department staff say are cumbersome and prone to errors in transcription.

The computers would allow fire department personnel to check hospital bed availability and to transmit information about a patient’s condition to hospital staff, as well as to store billing information.

The two-part proposal includes a $10-million, six-year contract with Scan Health Inc., better known as Sansio, for the computer system. Under a separate six-year contract, the city would pay Advanced Data Processing Inc. up to 5.5% of net collections revenue to handle billing and collections.

The city projected a net revenue increase of about $11 million over six years under the plan. The Los Angeles Fire Department billed $151 million for emergency medical services in the 2009 fiscal year but collected only $58 million.

The City Council’s public safety and personnel committees considered the proposal Monday but handed it to the full council without a recommendation to either approve or reject the contracts.

The full City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal Tuesday.

Councilmembers Dennis Zine and Jan Perry said they liked the idea of digitizing the medical records but had concerns that outsourcing the bill-collecting operations would eliminate jobs and might not prove more cost-effective than handling collections in-house.

"I don't believe in outsourcing," Perry said flatly.

Public Safety Committee Chairman Greig Smith, on the other hand, said that outsourcing the collections would be in the city's best financial interest and would potentially bring in funds to restore budgeted cuts in ambulance service.

The outsourcing of collections would eliminate 49 clerical positions in the emergency medical services unit, although city officials said the staff would be transferred to vacant positions in the fire department rather than being laid off.

The unit has struggled to collect fees for ambulance rides and other emergency services. An audit released two weeks ago by City Controller Wendy Greuel -- on the same day the city laid off more than 200 employees -- showed that the city collected 53% of its bills in the 2009 fiscal year, amounting to an annual loss of $260 million. Emergency management services fared worse, collecting 38% of the money owed.

City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana said the city needs to focus its resources on the functions it can perform effectively.

"The question is, is collection something we do well -- is it part of our core mission?" he said. "The controller recently released an audit that very clearly stated it's not something we do well."

-- Abby Sewell