Outsourcing ambulance billing under consideration

Friday, June 11, 2010

As Marshall County commissioners are asking department leaders to reduce operating costs to bring them in line with revenues, budget committeemen have considered hiring a company to send out bills for the county-owned ambulance service.

Bill Harrod, a representative from Paducah, Ky.-based Medical Accounts Receivable Services on Tuesday explained that MARS would provide rugged laptop computers for paramedics and emergency medical technicians to use when collecting information about a patient as they travel in an ambulance.

The committee, led by Commissioner Mickey King, heard Harrod's presentation and took no action, apparently preferring to think about the proposal and study information he provided.

"I can't imagine the subject of saving $200,000 a year not being discussed or pursued," Commissioner Billy Spivey said. "This would bring our Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Department into the 21st century...

"Before I invited this man, I spoke with his references," Spivey said.

He said he found that a for-profit ambulance service that uses MARS found that it increased its revenue. That for-profit business has a $1.52 million budget. Marshall County's EMS has a budget of $2.1 million.

"They do it over at Giles," says Jeff Skinner, an ambulance crewman here who has a part-time job with the Giles County EMS. "I work part-time over there, too. They claim it increases their billing, but I don't know. It just started over there."

Marshall County EMS leaders "had talked about it," Skinner said, "but I didn't know it was a proposal to the county commission here. I'd hate to see the billing girls lose their jobs."

EMS committeemen have routinely been frustrated with people who've not been able to pay their ambulance bills. The committee votes nearly every month on a list of patients whose bills need to be written off. MARS offers a system of faster billing and presumably fewer declarations of bad debts that can't be collected.

MARS claims to be the answer to billing issues faced by medical offices and places like the county's Emergency Medical Service.

"Regardless of specialty, location or need, MARS can provide a turnkey outsource billing solution to your free standing or hospital based practice," a company document states. "Our services result (in) lower costs to bill, increased recoveries, decreased days outstanding and a complete understanding of what is going on with your receivables and collections."