Partial agreement is reached on ambulance service billing Firefighters group to try out system for a year

May 08, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners and leaders of Carroll's volunteer firefighters association reached partial agreement yesterday on the touchy question of billing insurance companies for ambulance service.

The commissioners agreed to give the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association a year to implement a proposal from Robert Cumberland Jr., association second vice president.

But the association did not agree to support the commissioners' plan to have the county go forward with a proposal of its own if Cumberland's proposal fails.

Cumberland's goal is to have the association establish a uniform fee, beginning with the four companies -- Pleasant Valley, Union Bridge, Westminster and Winfield -- already billing insurance companies. Those companies charge fees ranging from $300 to $575 per call.

Other departments in the county's 14-company volunteer fire service are adamantly opposed to billing, especially by the county government.

These companies provide ambulance service but do not seek reimbursement from insurance companies. They pay for the service out of their operating budgets.

The companies fear that if insurance billing becomes routine, the county will reduce the amount of money it gives the association for operating expenses, Cumberland said. The county pays 85 percent of the fire companies' operating expenses and proposes to pay 90 percent in the fiscal year beginning July 1.

In earlier discussions, fire companies opposed to the billing proposal expressed fears that if they are reimbursed for ambulance calls, fund-raising contributions would dwindle.

Cumberland wants to set up a committee within the association to handle the billing for the four companies seeking insurance reimbursement and add other companies as they adopt the practice. Revenues would be used to pay emergency medical service personnel costs, now covered out of operating budgets.

The commissioners, who want to get health insurance providers to pay for ambulance service, wanted a guarantee that if Cumberland's proposal is not accepted within a year, the association would support county efforts to institute a billing program.

No guarantee was offered.

"I can't tell you the 14 companies are even willing to look at this," Gene Smith, association president, said.

But, "if you're going to have the association controlling the companies," said County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, "then at some point, there's got to be dialogue with the companies saying, 'This is the way it's going to be.' There may some things every company doesn't like, but [as a group] they have to agree that this is the way it's going to be."

The commissioners and the firefighters agreed to meet again after the firefighters' convention May 16 to see if individual companies will allow the county to go forward if Cumberland's proposal is not successful.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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