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Ambulance service fees could rise

(2/16) Emmitsburg Ambulance Company runs about 950 calls a year. Residents pay a service fee to have the ambulance help them. But those fees may increase 20 percent if the Frederick County Commissioners enact changes suggested by the Division of Fire and Rescue Services.

"Our ambulance billing program is designed to recoup the costs of service," said Commissioner Mike Cady.

And the cost of those routine calls is increasing, according to County EMS Billing Coordinator Tawanda Bailey.

Non-emergency BLS (Basic Life Support) calls cost $200 and emergency BLS calls are $300 and have been unchanged since they were first implemented in 1993. The commissioners will hold a public hearing to help them decide whether to increase the non-emergency BLS fee to $240 and the emergency BLS fee to $360.

BLS fees provide 80 percent of the county revenues from ambulance transport insurance billing or $2.2 million in fiscal 2005. According to Bailey, the increase would be $431,200 throughout the county.

How much of the increase individual companies would see depends on the company's fire tax district.

Emmitsburg's ambulance company serves an urban district, which means it has paid personnel around the clock. Because the county incurs greater costs to support an urban company, the company receives 25 percent of the ambulance fees.

"Whatever funds we receive are placed in a separate account and used for the upkeep of the building, purchasing equipment, utilities and everything needed to operate the company," said Joe Pelkey, president of the Emmitsburg Ambulance Company.

About 60 percent of Emmitsburg Ambulance's calls are BLS. The remaining calls are considered advanced life support. ALS fees were increased in the county in 2004.

Thurmont's ambulance company serves a suburban district. This means less paid personnel and less county expense so the company receives 75 percent of the ambulance fees.

In addition to this ambulance fee, if a patient is taken to a hospital, an additional $7.50 per mile is charged to the resident.

Subscription club saves money

Members of the Ambulance Subscription Club do not worry about increases in service fees.

For an annual payment, the subscription club accepts third party reimbursements as complete payment for ambulance service with no out-of-pocket expenses for the member. So even if insurance won't pay the full cost of the ambulance call, the subscription program covers the difference.

According to County EMS Billing Coordinator Tawanda Bailey, about 20,000 residents subscribed to the program this year.

"Some people look at it as a contribution to their local company," Bailey said.

Seniors pay $15 a years, adults pay $25 a year and household of three or more people pay $50 a year. All of this money supports the local ambulance company that serves the member. For more information, call 301-694-1308.

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