BEDFORD — The town council recently increased the town’s ambulance fees to 50 percent above Medicare-approved rates, a move that will have no effect on Medicare and Medicaid patients but will generate nearly $100,000 in annual revenue.
“We’re behind some of our communities in the region,” town manager Jessie Levine told councilors May 8. “If there are funds we’re leaving on the table, we wanted to take a look at that.”
Currently, the ambulance fees are 30 percent above approved Medicare rates, compared to most other communities in the state, whose fees range from between 50 to 75 percent above Medicare rates.
The new rate structure will go into effect June 1. The last time a change was made to the ambulance fees was in 2009.
“Of the 130 or so ambulance services, we would still rank among the bottom 10 ambulance providers for non-emergency transport, so it’s still a bargain, if you will, to have Bedford provide ambulance services,” said town council Chairman Christopher Bandazian.
In 2012, the town’s ambulance service responded to 1,528 calls, a 5 percent increase over the 1,451 calls it received the year prior.
The rate increase will have no effect on Medicare and Medicaid patients, officials said. “If you are a Medicare or Medicaid patient, the fees that are set up are the fees that are paid for by the town,” said Jim Scanlon, town councilor. “We as an organization, as a town, do not subsequently bill out any of those incremental fees. So, for members of the Bedford Taxpayers Association, for senior citizens this change that the town council may vote on will have no effect on the cost to a Medicare and Medicaid patient.”
Patients who would see an increase in their ambulance bills are those covered by private insurance carriers or those who would pay for ambulance service out of pocket. Last year, Medicare-related calls accounted for half of all the ambulance responses made by Bedford EMTs.
Councilors voted unanimously to approve the rate increase, but one board member, Normand Longval, questioned the rationale for the rate increase. “It sounds like we’re competing, like we have to keep up with the Joneses,” Longval said. “I don’t think we should have to have an increase just to keep up with surrounding communities.”
Finance director Crystal Dionne, however, said the decision to recommend the increase was not based on trying to compete with other towns. “I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses,” Dionne said. “This is a very expensive service to operate, and as you well know when you look at the budget and what it costs to operate the service and what it generates in revenue, it’s not even a break-even.”
Dionne said the town council’s prior policy of 30 percent above Medicare failed to keep up with costs. “As you can well imagine, the federal government has continued to reduce the amount that it wants to pay. So, as they continue to reduce their accepted cost for these services, it continues to reduce our 30 percent above cost, so we would essentially be back-tracking as this service continues to cost us more,” Dionne said. “We do have to keep up. It’s not keeping up with our neighbors, it’s keeping up with our own costs.”