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Battle Brews in Albany, NY Over EMS Billing

January 23, 2018
RE:          Battle Brews in Albany Over EMS Billing
BY:          Joe Mahoney, CNHI State Reporter
FROM:     Press Republican (www.pressrepublican.com)

ALBANY — Volunteer fire departments and private emergency squads are clashing at the statehouse over a measure that would allow the former to bill patients' insurers for ambulance runs.

Some volunteer emergency medical services have been forced to close due to rising costs and their inability to find the revenue needed to sustain their operations and recover their expenses, said Thomas Rinaldi, president of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York.

State law prohibits volunteer fire companies from doing so.

"They just can't make it," Rinaldi said in an interview.

He noted that some departments, struggling to find people willing to donate their time as volunteers, now pay EMS crew members so the communities can continue to offer ambulance services.

Legislation crafted by two North Country lawmakers, Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury) and Assemblyman Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay) would allow fire departments to bill for ambulance service.

Advocates for the measure say the fire departments, responding to more emergency calls than ever, have been caught in an "affordability crisis" due to their inability to bill for transporting patients to hospitals and health clinics.

All other ambulance providers in the state are already allowed to bill for ambulance runs, and the Little-Jones proposal would level the playing field for the other types of ambulance squads.

Some emergency squads have already split apart from fire departments, hiring their own lawyers and accountants to help them get organized, so they can bill for the services.

Among them is Champlain EMS, which had been the rescue arm of Champlain Volunteer Fire Department.

But Little said such maneuvers shouldn't be necessary to keep emergency services operations viable.

"They should be able to operate within the fire departments," the senator said. "Many times, the people with the emergency squads are the same people who are with the fire departments."

The legislation is vigorously opposed by the United New York Ambulance Network, comprising more than 30 commercial ambulance companies that employ about 5,000 New Yorkers total.

In a memo sent to the offices of lawmakers, the group argued the bill is unnecessary because not-for-profit ambulance corps can be created and housed under the same roofs as fire departments.

Other options, the group said, include private-public partnerships for ambulance service and contracting with commercial providers or not-for-profit ambulance operations that are authorized to bill.

The network for the commercial providers also warned that elderly and disabled people could end up facing $500 ambulance transport bills and that others needing advanced life support may not get them if the measure becomes law.

"Some people will die unnecessarily, and many more will suffer needlessly," the memo stated.

But those coming out in support of the Little-Jones legislation include the Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials, the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs and the Firemen's Association of the State of New York.

John Sroka, president of the fire chiefs association, contended the measure would level the playing field for fire departments with emergency squads.

“EMS calls require a significant investment in time, training and personnel, and it is critical that fire departments are able to recover the associated costs, just as every other EMS provider in New York state already can,” Sroka said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Fishkill Mayor James Miccio said the legislation would help alleviate fiscal stress on municipal budgets.

“In a time of decreased volunteerism and increased responsibilities, it is critical that these departments have every available tool to provide New Yorkers with the highest possible level of service," said Miccio, who is president of the Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials.

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