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Rural/Metro in Alabama to pay $5.4 million

Rural/Metro Corp. and its operation in Alabama will pay $5.4 million to settle claims that the ambulance company improperly billed Medicare, according to Joyce White Vance, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.

The company's billing practices in Western New York also have been called into question by employees.

The payment by Rural/Metro Corp., Rural/Metro of Central Alabama Inc. and Mercury Ambulance Service, doing business as Rural/Metro Ambulance, settles a lawsuit alleging that the company submitted false claims for ambulance services that were never provided or were medically unnecessary.

The complaint was initiated by a company whistle-blower in Alabama in 2009, and the U.S. Justice Department joined the case in March 2011. The whistle-blower, Carl Crawley, and his lawyers will receive about $1 million of the settlement.

The complaint alleged that Rural/Metro would break from Medicare rules by billing to transport dialysis patients who were not bed-confined.

Current and former Rural/Metro employees in the Buffalo Niagara region also have questioned Rural/Metro's billing practices. For example, an ex-employee said a boss ordered a hospital form to be changed to justify transporting a patient home from Buffalo General Hospital when the instructions said the patient didn't need an ambulance.

Local Rural/Metro executives said in a Buffalo News article in January that the reports from disgruntled current and former employees should not be believed and that the company maintains a vigorous compliance program here.