Ambulance fee plan to undergo study Insurance would pay user costs

volunteer firemen cool to effort

April 15, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Leaders of the county Volunteer Firemen's Association agreed reluctantly yesterday to consider charging ambulance service fees that would be paid by health insurance companies.

County financial analysts estimate that Carroll could gain up to $3.5 million in revenue from the fees -- nearly as much as the $3.8 million the county has proposed to provide volunteer companies in the next fiscal year. But association leaders warned the County Commissioners that the study of an ambulance fee might not lead anywhere.

There are 14 independent fire companies, said association President Eugene Curfman, who also is the county's comptroller. "Getting over the hurdle of pooling that money is a giant hurdle."

Curfman and other association leaders also said they feared that:

The county would quit or greatly reduce its funding if fees are charged.

Some elderly people would not call for an ambulance when needed because they couldn't afford a fee if they had to pay under a insurance reimbursement plan; or they would be afraid that their health coverage would be canceled if a fee were charged.

Volunteer companies getting the most calls would not share revenue with those getting the least, and that people in sparsely populated areas would be at risk.

That different volunteer companies would charge different fees, and ambulance users would shop for the lowest.

Two volunteer companies already charge fees; four others have pledged not to charge them, the commissioners were told. Those differences would have to be reconciled.

The task of a panel of association members would be to address those differences, said Robert A. "Max" Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff.

"The bottom line is that we have a problem" funding emergency medical services, he said.

The county is not trying to force anything on anyone, Bair said, but is instead asking association members to share a simple process. "You say, 'This is the issue, these are the options, this is what is most cost-effective.' Define the problem and look at the solutions."

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates offered his definition of the problem in an opening statement.

A diminishing number of volunteers is making it difficult for the companies to provide ambulance service to a growing population, he said, and as a result, paid personnel are be being used to "fill this gap."

"Unfortunately, budgets are being increasingly strained" to ensure emergency ambulance service for all, Yates said. An alternative, he said, would be to recover ambulance service costs from insurance carriers.

By not charging a fee, the county is allowing insurance companies "to get a free ride," Yates said.

The county could collect $500 to $600 per incident, county Budget Director Steven D. Powell told association leaders. "It could take us incredible places," he said.

Curfman did not promise that the panel of volunteers could agree on a plan. One thing he could promise, he said, is that whatever the committee decides, no one seeking emergency medical service in the county will be turned away for lack of insurance or ability to pay a fee.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.