Alerting 1st responders -- and solicitor

City residents' water bills to include pitch for medical information service ... and more

Posted: January 11, 2012

If you were in a house fire or a car crash, you would want first responders to know your medical information and whom to notify.

The city has hooked up with an Oklahoma company to provide that service for free. Residents will receive registration information in January water bills.

Good news, right? Well, if you don't mind getting solicited for the $10 per year "premium service." Or other products the company sells.

Everyone who gets a city water bill will be encouraged to check out the website of ICEdot (which stands for "in case of emergency.") They'll also receive an ICEdot sticker to apply to their home or car, alerting first responders to the location of their medical information and the names of people to notify.

Philadelphia is the first U.S. city to offer this service, Mayor Nutter announced this week.

And ICEdot's chief executive, Chris Zenthoefer, insisted that, "You are never solicited from the for-profit [part of ICEdot.]"

But that's not true. After a person completes the online profile (including name, gender, birth date and medical needs), he or she is instantly asked to choose between "free driving protection" and the company's "premium service for only $10 a year," which offers special add-ons like bracelets, snaps, text messaging, and a membership starter kit with a personalized member card, a photo ID and two key fobs.

Company spokesman Scott Tattar said that attracting potential customers "wasn't the motivation," but he added, that's "certainly the hope, in part."

In a news conference earlier this week, Nutter described the program as a "great service.

"I encourage every Philadelphian to make a resolution to sign up for ICEdot to protect themselves and their loved ones," he said.

Asked about the sales pitch for add-ons, Nutter said, "We need to be as crystal-clear as possible: You can skip the screen with the bracelets, ID cards and everything else, after which there is no charge, and move on and close out. You decide as the sign-up person whether you want a bracelet or not. Every now and then it just is what it is."

City Controller Alan Butkovitz said he was concerned about the security of participants' personal information.

"The city is obsessed about HIPAA [the federal patient-privacy law] and medical records," he said, adding that when his office requested city medical records for an emergency audit, he couldn't get them. "Then they're ready to sign on for a company that [disclaims responsibility if the personal information is stolen]."

Butkovitz also pointed out that the company does not have a contract with the city and had not submitted a request-for-proposal, a routine submission from companies that hope to do business with the city.

Holly Mantle, ICEdot's spokeswoman, said there was no contract or RFP because there was no financial exchange.

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