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EMS makes progress on billing backlog

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 by Amy Smith

Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services is chipping away at a billing backlog that started with a demanding learning curve associated with a new patient records system implemented in 2019.

Additional billing delays carried over into 2020 as city staffers started setting up workspaces at home during the pandemic, interim EMS Chief Jasper Brown told the Audit and Finance Committee last week. “And then it just kind of snowballed from there because we had people out with Covid themselves. They couldn’t work, even from home,” Brown said, adding that the situation worsened when three staffers moved on to other jobs.

With EMS’ finance department now fully staffed and one additional new employee on board, the current billing backlog stands at 13,917.  As of last month, EMS had processed more than 11,000 claims to submit for Fiscal Year 2020-21 compared to a low of 1,725 claims submitted for the previous budget year.

Brown’s progress report on the backlog was part of several directives from City Council when it provided EMS with additional funding to beef up staffing under a budget rider brought by Alison Alter, Council member and Audit and Finance Committee chair.

Other directives called for EMS to establish a separate fee schedule for residents outside of its service area who require an ambulance trip to a hospital, which is expected to bring in about $200,000 in revenue. The department is also in the process of increasing fees for all ambulance transports, which is expected to generate about $350,000.  More revenue translates to EMS’ ability to hire more medics, as outlined in the rider. Council has already approved expanding EMS’ charity care policy for writing off bills for low-income or non-insured residents.

Both Alter and Council Member Kathie Tovo expressed support for EMS’ progress on addressing the backlog and for the department’s work toward implementing fee increases and creating a separate fee for nonresidents.

“It does seem like you’ve put together a path forward to address the backlog (and) take a closer look at our billing system to find additional ways that we can generate the revenue we can under state law with the safeguards in place,” Alter said.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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