The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps will begin billing insurance companies for all ambulance rides next year in a bid to raise revenue to offset the rising cost of first aid supplies and hire more staff to answer calls.
The new billing has the potential to raise up to $2.36 million per year, according to initial projections from RVAC’s billing company. This number is based on 5,000 trips per year, an average distance of three miles per trip, and the number of advanced survival trips – which cost $300 more than basic survival services – being 55%.
Many Long Island ambulance companies have turned to billing services to boost revenue, officials said during a city council business meeting Thursday with ambulance company president Garret Lake and the district manager Pat Gugliotta. RVAC representatives have received verbal consent from the board to implement the change, which is likely to begin early next year.
“The price increases for materials, first aid, supplies, medicine, rubber gloves, everything has tripled, quadrupled,” said councilman Tim Hubbard, the city council’s liaison to the ambulance company. “It puts a burden on the city to have to raise taxes to maintain the ambulance company – and that’s something we’re definitely always going to do is maintain an ambulance company. But it would be a bit of a relief to the taxpayer if there are other sources of revenue that can be brought in through pricing, because all of your insurance companies, whether it’s health insurance, or your auto insurance, all have a coverage for this type of transport. ”
The ambulance company has been billing car insurance companies for ambulance rides related to car accidents since 2017. Full billing would allow the company to bill health insurance companies for other ambulance rides.
Hubbard said the intent of the change is only to collect from insurance companies and the billing cost of the ride will not come out of anyone’s pocket. “We’re not looking to collect from anyone,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like they can never call an ambulance because they can’t afford the ambulance ride. It’s not that.”
The billing company can send bills to the homes of people who were transported by ambulance after the insurance was billed to ask for more money. Lake said the ambulance company is mandated to make a “good faith” effort to have Medicare and Medicare reverse the bills, which will result in three bills in the mail – at 30 days, 60 days and 90 days – after which the letters would stop, even if the patient did not pay.
Hubbard said the process is a “soft collection,” as opposed to a “hard collection,” meaning ignoring the bill will not result in damage to an individual’s credit score.
Lake said if she didn’t implement the billing system, the city would likely have to raise the ambulance district’s taxes above the 2% cap. “It’s money you pay anyway when you pay your insurance premiums, which you might as well use to help get what we need to provide the best service at Riverhead,” he said. -he declares.
“Riverhead got really big really quickly – and for good,” Lake added. “But we have to have the funding to have the staff.”
Although the RVAC has over 100 volunteer employees, it must also employ non-volunteers, such as paramedics, while the volunteers are at their jobs. The ambulance company is only fully staffed with volunteers from 6 p.m. to midnight, Gugliotta said.
In addition to covering rising costs, the new funds provided to the budget will also allow RVAC to save for long-term purchases, such as new vehicles and new property to store equipment.
City and RVAC officials agreed they needed to launch a public relations campaign to make sure residents know how billing works. Council members offered to send out mailings to residents, partner with the library, post online and run an ad in the newspaper to spread the word.
Hubbard said the city wanted to avoid a situation like the one in Flanders, where residents have complained about the bills they received from the Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which started charging four years ago, in part because that they were unaware of the process.
Gugliotta said RVAC members are embedded in the community and can also spread the word. “We will make sure that all of our members are on the same page when it comes to how to actually explain it to people so that there are no misunderstandings,” he said. declared. “Because the last thing we want is for anyone to have unanswered questions and then they come to you guys or they come to us already exasperated because they haven’t gotten an answer. .”
Gugliotta has previously said there’s a “stigma” associated with ambulance billing. The RVAC began charging for ambulance rides related to car accidents in 2017, although the multi-year journey to a billing agreement was met with resistance from RVAC board members and city council members. A compromise was found in 2014 to charge for car accidents, but not all benefits.
“I don’t think until now, or until last year, it really wasn’t necessary. We were kind of doing our best with what we had,” Gugliotta said.
Lake said the company will stick with the Certified Ambulance Group of Wethersfield, Connecticut, the billing company she currently uses for car accidents. The company takes 3.5% of revenue, a reduction according to RVAC officials is significantly lower than other billing companies emerging in the market.
“They made a commitment to us not to change anything and we have a great relationship with them,” Gugliotta said. Certified Ambulance Group was one of six companies to respond to a request for proposals issued in 2015.
RVAC is a non-profit organization under contract to the Riverhead Ambulance District, a special tax district governed by the Riverhead Town Board, which provides emergency medical services in the town, excluding the district area of Wading River fire. RVAC answers about 5,500 calls a year, according to Gugliotta, and covers a large number of senior communities.
The Wading River Fire Department provides rescue services with the Wading River Fire District, which covers the Riverhead and Brookhaven areas. Wading River Fire Commissioner Matthew Wallace told a call today that firefighters will also start charging for ambulance services from next year after a new law passed by the New York State’s budget this year gave volunteer firefighters the power to charge.
While even the Certified Ambulance Group’s lowest revenue projections of just over $2 million may seem promising, the actual number may end up being lower. The Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps started charging four years ago and receives between $200,000 and $250,000 a year, although it was initially estimated to bring in around $500,000.
Wallace was reluctant to give figures on the amount of billing in the Wading River fire district. “There’s really no way of knowing until it’s actually rolled out and it’s actually working,” he said.
Gugliotta said RVAC submitted its budget to the city without expected new billing increases and will adjust its budget next year to reflect the additional revenue. The revenue increases will be part of the organization’s proposed budget in 2024.
“The first year will probably be the lowest consumption. But as you see the numbers, you know, even though we only brought in $800,000 in the first year, that’s multiple crews,” Lake said.
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