Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ambulance service prices to jump

New fees in line with state, say officials


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

A Ketchum ambulance crew responds to a bicycle accident last month.

The cost of an ambulance ride will jump roughly $185 if a new set of user fees proposed by Wood River Ambulance and Ketchum Ambulance on Tuesday are approved by Blaine County commissioners.

Wood River Fire and Rescue Chief Bart Lassman presented the plan during a meeting on Tuesday, in which he proposed raising the base fee for ambulance transport service from $690 to $875.

This base rate has been in place since 2008, Lassman said, and has not even been adjusted for inflation over the past five years.

"We have been discussing this [adjustment] for over two years," Lassman said. "It doesn't seem to come up [in budget hearings]. It comes up about every eight years."

The number is based on the price of ambulance service in other areas that provide an equivalent level of coverage. For example, Ada County charges $995 per transport, Idaho Falls $725, Twin Falls $780 and Kooentai County $700. Jackson Hole, another resort area, charges $950 for similar service.

The jump from $690 to $875 would be a 21 percent increase, which Lassman said is nearly as large as the increase in fees from the 2001 ambulance district fee schedule to the current fees. That was a 25 percent increase, approved by commissioners in 2008.

But Lassman said it's not a matter of just trying to charge people more.

"We are just trying to identify what the other [ambulance] services are providing and charging, and bringing us up [to that level]," he said.

Wittman Enterprises, the company who provides medical billing services for the ambulance district, estimated that the changes for the base rate, in addition to a 25 percent increase in mileage charges, would bring $72,362 in additional revenue to the district.

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For the first time, ambulance service would also come with additional fees based on what supplies and medications are used and what procedures are performed. Lassman said that these charges are common in other Idaho counties. Ada County charges $59 for oxygen, for example, and $308 if a childbirth is performed.

Lassman said that Wittman Enterprises recommended "bundling" procedures such as defibrillation with medication and other supplies into two separate groups: "minor" and "major" supply charges. Minor supplies would cost $250, while major supplies would cost $500.

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he thought that the bundling could end up unfairly charging patients who only require very minor medication.

"If I got a bill and was charged $250 for an ibuprofen, I would not be happy about it," he said. "I just was transported by an ambulance [in March] and I know how I responded to receiving all of these bills for all of these different services."

Ketchum Fire Chief Mike Elle said that in order for a patient to be administered medication, he or she would have to undergo several procedures as well.

"We don't give anybody medicine just because," he said.

Lassman said that in order for there to be a charge, there would need to be a solid justification, typically provided by paramedics on a report or "run sheet."

"Clearly we are not here talking about overcharging people," he said. "There has to be a certain level of trust in the service providers that they will do the right thing."

The county must hold two fully-noticed public hearings before the fee structures can be approved. The fee adjustments also include raising the rates for minor and major extrication and ambulance standby.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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