Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cost of ambulance ride jumps 27 percent

County commissioners approve new fees


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

An ambulance ride in Blaine County now costs $185 more, due to a decision made by the county Ambulance District to raise user fees during a public hearing Tuesday.

The Blaine County commissioners, who also serve as the Ambulance District board, approved a number of new user fees and ambulance charges after a series of public meetings to discuss the topic since it was presented earlier this month.

The changes include a 27 percent increase in base user ambulance fees, from $690 to $875. Wood River Fire & Rescue Chief Bart Lassman said in a public meeting July 3 that the base rate has been in place since 2008 and has not been adjusted for inflation over the past five 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.

"Chief Lassman put a lot of work into researching comparable rates and charges with our cohorts, both outside and inside the state," said Commissioner Tom Bowman. "He found that we were not very well aligned and suggested the increase."

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The commissioners said they unanimously supported the increase, which Lassman said earlier this month is not an attempt to gouge customers.

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

Commissioner Larry Schoen said he supported the increase as a way to keep the ambulance service's two-part revenue stream—partly based on user fees and partly based on property tax revenue—in balance.

"One of the great reasons behind this adjustment is that we not allow rates and charges to lag the costs of providing the service in a balanced program," he said. "The longer we keep our user fees the same in the face of rising costs, the further behind we fall."

Wittman Enterprises, the company that 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.

Users will also be expected to pay for additional medications and procedures—such as use of an automatic external defibrillator or breathing tubes. Depending on the level of care needed, users could be charged $250 for "minor" procedures and supplies, while "major" procedures and supplies will be $500.

The charges went into effect as of July 24.

Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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