EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

January 13, 2013

Inside Methuen's $80K 'mistake'

Errors delayed ambulance rate hike 5 months; Zanni says 'buck stops with me'

METHUEN — A series of errors and miscommunication by the fire chief and others at City Hall ultimately cost the city $80,000 in ambulance revenue, a review of public documents shows.

And while fire Chief Steven Buote takes “full responsibility” for the five-month delay that prevented the city’s ambulance service from collecting additional money under a higher rate schedule, Mayor Stephen Zanni is also shouldering the blame.

“There’s finger-pointing,” said Zanni. “No matter how you cut it up, the buck stops with me.”

The City Council voted unanimously last May to increase the base rate the Fire Department charges for transporting a patient in an ambulance from $583 to $913. The vote also nearly doubled the rates for numerous additional medical services.

It was expected the rate hike would take effect July 1, 2012, and generate $160,000 in new revenue. But the new rates weren’t instituted until Dec. 7 — a costly delay Zanni said he didn’t learn about until November.

“My understanding was they were in place,” said Zanni.

Councilors first discussed the rate-hike delay Dec. 3. The next day, Buote sent Zanni a five-page report outlining numerous missteps. The report was included in a series of emails and documents obtained from the city by The Eagle-Tribune.

The emails and documents reveal the following problems:

After unanimously voting to raise ambulance rates May 7, city councilors signed an ordinance that included an incorrect rate schedule

During the process of switching ambulance billing companies effective Jan. 1, the city submitted incorrect information to its new vendor, New England Medical Billing (NEMB), which led to delays.

The city’s old billing company, Comstar Ambulance Billing, was not notified of the new rate schedule until Dec. 6

“Due to unfortunate delays I do not believe that we notified you,” Buote wrote to a Comstar employee Dec. 6. “Please make these new rates effective immediately, or sooner if possible.”

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