Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ambulance rides may jump in price

Commissioners face challenge with Ambulance District budget


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County residents could see their ambulance costs rise if commissioners approve the proposed Ambulance District budget for 2013.

Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman and Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle brought their budget proposal to the Blaine County commissioners acting as the Ambulance District commissioners on Monday. The proposal included a $65,000 hike in total "user fees" charged to patients who use medical emergency services.

Both Lassman and Commissioner Tom Bowman said the proposed increase in revenue would help stabilize the budget and align the district's charges with fees across the state.

"We are way behind the mark," Lassman said, adding that Blaine County's charges for medical services fall behind other counties with similar levels of care, such as Ada, Twin Falls and Canyon counties.

Lassman said in a later interview that currently, patients who are transported to St. Luke's Wood River via ambulance are charged a base fee plus mileage, with additional charges incurred if the patient needed to be extricated from a vehicle or took advantage of the technical rescue team. Charges also apply if the patient was a transfer from Custer County, whose EMS often rendezvous with local services to transport patients.

Lassman said the amended fees would raise all the existing rates but also add another rate for medications and procedures carried out in the ambulance.

"That's something we've never done," he said. "But we're just trying to recover costs."

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Medications and procedures often require equipment such as breathing tubes, automatic external defibrillators to regulate heart rate or medications to stabilize the patients. Lassman said other counties charge for these items already.

The proposal also included a 10-year annual 3 percent hike to the Ambulance District portion of county property tax, in part to enable the departments to invest in needed equipment.

Elle said the county's investment last year enabled the district to purchase seven automatic external defibrillators, items that have already saved two lives this year—one on Bald Mountain and one man who had to be shocked three times before regaining a pulse and blood pressure.

"He's been back at work for almost two weeks," Elle said of the second man. "That's what this system is all about."

The proposed long-term plan, which envisions financial stability for the Ambulance District through 2023, also provides for replacing an ambulance every two out of three years. Elle said one of the Ketchum ambulances is in desperate need of replacement, and that ideally ambulances should be replaced every seven years or 70,000 miles.

"It's a 1997 Chevrolet that we've spent a lot of money on over the years," Elle said of the ambulance. "It has twice stranded us on the side of the road with patients on board. Thankfully, those patients weren't critical."

Formal deliberations on the Ambulance District budget won't occur until next month, and a preliminary budget will be set in August.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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