County OKs fee hike for ambulances

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday approved a fee hike for Ashland Fire & Rescue, raising the charge for an ambulance ride to just pennies short of $890.

The change also eliminated a previous lower rate for basic service.

Commissioner Dave Gilmour, a physician, noted the "huge increase" in the number of patients being transported by ambulance in recent years. Many are elders covered by the federal Medicare program, but reimbursement from Medicare falls "way below the cost of doing business." The Medicare reimbursement, which is around half the charge for transporting patients, hasn't gone up for years, Gilmour said.

Going to one fee for all patients and using all-paramedic staff will allow Ashland Fire & Rescue to bill Medicare for a higher reimbursement, said County Administrator Danny Jordan. Under the advanced life support service, AFR will no longer use emergency medical technicians, who have less training than paramedics.

The new fee structure "will allow (AFR) to collect the maximum billing amount from Medicare (and) maintain a high level of service," Jordan said.

In recommending the increase, hammered out in a work session with county officials Oct. 6, Jordan said the increased fee for mileage — up from $10 per mile to $14 per mile — is a "significant increase," but the agency hasn't raised it since 1996.

Gilmour said, "It costs a lot to ride in an ambulance and (because AFR is a nonprofit agency) they aren't in business to make a lot of money for shareholders." Commissioner Jack Walker noted that prospective patients may subscribe to ambulance service for an annual rate of $52, which "makes it free (and) the decision doesn't seem exorbitant." Commissioner C.W. Smith said that, during the study session, the board "found a great deal of responsibility (in AFR)" and "they've kept fees down a long time. It's a reasonable decision."

There was no testimony from the public on the increase, and the approval was unanimous.

The increase still leaves Ashland Fire & Rescue the lowest priced of the county's three ambulance services, although AFR's mileage charge will no longer be the lowest.

The changes take effect Jan. 1.

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