Saturday, February 28, 2015

Insight - When taking an ambulance ride becomes more about the money

More and more often residents aren’t calling their local rescue when they have a medical emergency because they don’t want to have to pay an additional bill. 
At the last Windham Town Council meeting, Fire-Rescue Chief Brent Libby and Shawn McPherson from Medical Reimbursement Services, who bills for ambulance rides, addressed questions from the council members. They were supposed to be discussing going to a flat fee rate for trips to the hospital, no longer charging for individual tubes and equipment that was used. There would be three tiers of care. The issue came to a head when it was pointed out that Windham only participates with three insurance companies and depending on which one a resident uses, determines how much the ride will cost in the end. 

For example, insurance companies and individuals are charged $12 per mile, but Medicare only pays $7.50 per mile. The difference doesn’t come back on the Medicare user, but the individual without insurance is required to pay the $12. 

The rescue fees have always been a part of paying for the rescue program and keeping four fulltime paramedics/firefighters on staff, said town manager Tony Plante. 

In 2010 all outstanding bills were sent to a collections agency and bills that are over 150 days are sent off as well. 

Plante did mention that there was a hardship relief fund for those residents who can’t afford the bill they received, but as one person pointed out, the older generations don’t ask for help. 

The more questions the councilors asked, the muckier the waters got. 

Not participating with all insurance companies seems odd. The reason was that with some insurance companies the town gets paid 40 percent less than the bill. 

“I don’t’ have a problem with paying one fee. I do have a problem with not working with all insurance companies,” said councilor Donna Chapman. “We need to be working with all insurance companies,” she added. 

The town needs to be able to pay for the equipment, trucks and personnel to staff the ambulances, but to penalize someone because the company they work for doesn’t have the “right” insurance is ridiculous. Wouldn’t it be better to get 40 percent of the money rather than none? What is the goal? To provide a service for the residents or to use the rescue as a revenue making machine? 

In my opinion, frightening people away from calling 911 when they are having a heart attack or a stroke over a few dollars, goes against what the service is there for. I think that the council did the right thing by looking into the matter and hopefully finding a way to make calling for an ambulance less scary.

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