More than 40 people have received collection notices sent in error after being transported by Rural Metro ambulances in San Diego.
Last month, NBC 7 Responds helped three residents who received collection notices for ambulance rides they needed two years ago. After the story aired, dozens more reached out to the consumer investigative unit sharing similar stories.
Twenty-three-year-old Danielle Johnston is one of those people. She had a mishap with a bed frame in 2014.
“It just slipped out of my hands cause it was so heavy and I think I had my foot like this, and then from really high it went straight onto my foot,” Danielle said. “My foot swelled immediately.”
Danielle called 911 and was transported by a Rural/Metro ambulance to a local hospital. Since she was on her parent’s health insurance plan, Danielle thought the ride was covered until she received a call from a collections agency two years later.
“They hadn’t processed it through insurance,” Danielle’s mother Susan Rillie said. “It was just an unpaid bill that they dumped on collections.”
Most insurance companies require a claim to be filed within a year of the incident. In this case, that time had passed for Danielle.
“I figured there’s not too much we are going to be able to do other than try to protect her credit from having a negative report,” Susan said.
Susan settled the amount with the collections agency, Credence Resource Management based in Texas, paying a little over $1,500. The next day, Susan said she saw NBC 7 Responds’ story on the Rural/Metro collections error.
“I called back the agency [Credence Resource Management] and I told them I was going to stop payment because there is apparently a bigger issue here,” Susan said.
Click here to watch NBC 7 Responds’ first report on Rural/Metro collections.
Gaye Dingeman, 91, was in a similar situation after needing a Rural/Metro ambulance ride in 2014.
“They thought I was bleeding internally so they put me in the hospital,” Gaye said.
Gaye said she never received a bill after the ambulance ride but figured it was covered under her Medicare insurance.
Two years later, Gaye received a collection notice for $3,200.
“I was shocked,” Gaye said. “That’s a lot of money, we don’t have it just sitting around waiting to be spent on ambulances.”
After contacting NBC 7 Responds, Rural/Metro eliminated both Gaye and Danielle’s balances. The company also issued a refund to Danielle’s mother Susan for the amount she had paid.
In the Bay Area, the NBC television station ran the NBC 7 Responds story and immediately heard from more than a dozen people who also received collection notices for ambulance rides in 2014. Those bills totaled over $12,000.
When NBC 7 Responds contacted Rural/Metro about the collection notices, the company resolved the complaints quickly by eliminating the balances and sending a letter to each patient explaining the bill was sent to the collection agency in error.
In an email statement, Rural/Metro’s Media Relations Manager Tom Milton said, the company has “..instituted new procedures to ensure this does not happen again. This issue affects only bills prior to 2015. It does not affect bills from 2015 and 2016.”
Rural/Metro told NBC 7 Responds the issue resulted from a processing change that was made when the company came out of bankruptcy.
Rural/Metro Corporation filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
In 2015, Rural/Metro was purchased by Envision Healthcare Holdings Inc. through the company’s medical transport branch American Medical Response (AMR).
Rural/Metro has contracts with cities across the country in twenty states, according to the company’s website. NBC 7 Responds asked a company spokesperson how widespread the error from the processing change could be, but the spokesperson did not respond.
In 2015, the San Diego City Council approved a no-bid contract extension with Rural/Metro to provide emergency medical services for the next five years.
When NBC 7 Responds brought the issue surrounding the collection notices to the city’s attention, Katie Keach a spokesperson for the city said via email, “While we do not have oversight of the company's business activities, we have confirmed that they are quickly resolving billing concerns."
NBC 7 Responds reached out to every member of the San Diego City Council. Those that responded said they felt Rural/Metro’s current approach to the collection notices was appropriate.
Click here to view statements sent to NBC 7 Responds from City Council members, Rural/Metro and more.
NBC 7 Responds has learned an attorney for Rural/Metro told a San Diego County Prosecutor Rural/Metro felt it was logistically impossible to identify and then proactively contact the affected consumers from 2014.
In an email, a Rural/Metro spokesperson told NBC 7 Responds, “If patients received a bill they think might be in error for Rural Metro fire or ambulance services provided prior to 2015, the easiest way to get it resolved is to send an email to email@example.com. We sincerely apologize for any problems this issue has caused our patients."
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