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Corruption in EMS: Ruining it for the good guys

Editor's note: The Houston Chronicle published a series of stories this week about EMS corruption in that city. Specifically, how a few ambulance companies have defrauded both Medicare and taxpayers by taking patients on unnecessary transports.

Fresh on the heels of my last column about problems with EMS management is this scathing article about ambulances in Houston making unnecessary transports to very dubious destinations, and ripping off the taxpayer to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. While I'm sure that some of these trips are in fact needed by the patient, I'm equally certain that many, if not most of these transports are fraudulent in nature.

Stealing money in our industry is nothing new; over the years numerous ambulance operators have found it fit to pilfer money away from federal tax coffers and health insurance companies. Some of these individuals were caught; I'm willing to bet that many weren't, given the government's track record of monitoring of payment programs of any type.

Nevertheless, the results are the same. I cringed each time this article uses the term "EMS" rather than "ambulance transport." Nothing like painting the majority of us with the same broad brush! We might as well be back in the age of cadillac hearse/ambulances, racing to a scene to snag a victim for transport and dollars before the other service gets there.

Cases like these make it even harder for the services that are trying to play by the rules. The reimbursement pot for ambulance transport and EMS care is already scant. Legislators would like nothing better but to find excuses to limit the funding even further.

If you are an EMS professional in the Houston area, I hope you take a moment to tell your local representatives that you are mad about unscrupulous companies, and that most of us are not in it for the money but to take care of people. And most importantly, despite the egregiousness of this story, don't let a few bad apples ruin it for the bunch.

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