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Erie County is more likely to open its own collection agency to pursue inmate health care expenses that go unpaid, delinquent child support and patient debts from Erie County Medical Center, among other things.

The County Legislature's Government Affairs Committee this week advanced a Giambra administration request to spend $120,000 on a consultant who would help the county set up a collections unit. The county's money managers say the county has passed up millions of dollars over the years because individual departments don't know how to pursue unpaid bills.

Consultant Lawrence W. Smith of Naperville, Ill., and Joseph R. Ciffa, hired to run the county's new unit, say it could be especially fruitful with the millions uncollected at ECMC. The county's unit, Ciffa said, could take first crack at unpaid bills before the county goes to the outside collection agencies ECMC now employs.

In many cases, the county would be pursuing payment from some of its poorest residents. But officials reason that if the residents are covered by Medicaid or Medicare, the county would derive some benefit.

Legislator Steven P. McCarville, R-Orchard Park, voted against the measure.

"I'm having trouble getting over the hump that we have so many employees and the work is not being done," he said.

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