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Try again: City ambulance bid tainted

Manchester aldermen seem set to award a five-year ambulance service contract with a company that was almost run out of town for poor customer service just last year. And the reason for the city's suddenly favorable opinion of the company that many elected officials and residents wanted to kick out is a mystery. Something smells fishy.

American Medical Response is the city's current ambulance service provider. After complaints from city residents, the company conducted an internal audit and found that it had overbilled for 323 trips in Manchester in 2011 and 2012. AMR officials said the problem stemmed from employees in its central billing office being unfamiliar with the city contract. But that was not the first time AMR had overbilled people.

In 2010, the company paid $994,000 to settle a class action lawsuit regarding overbilling in Spokane, Wash. Last year the company paid $2.7 million to settle federal charges that it "knowingly submitted falsely inflated claims" for Medicare and other federal health insurance programs.

This is the company that Fire Chief James Burkush is recommending for a five-year city contract, though a competitor, American Ambulance, appears to have received a more favorable review from a special city committee set up to review the ambulance bids and a recommendation from that committee. We say "appears to" because there is a dispute over the committee minutes, which also is fishy.

Going with American Ambulance would seem to be a no-brainer. The process that led to the AMR recommendation is tainted by a disputed committee meeting with poorly kept minutes that don't explain how the fire chief wound up choosing a company with a track record of overbilling problems. Aldermen should rebid the contract — at two years, like Nashua does, not five — and start over.

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