Press-Republican

September 20, 2013

Fort Covington EMS, Fire Department to separate

By DENISE A. RAYMO Press-Republican
Press-Republican

---- — FORT COVINGTON — Fort Covington emergency-medical service is being separated from the Fire Department so insurance companies can be billed for ambulance calls.

That self-sufficiency could end the drain on the Fort Covington Volunteer Fire Department’s annual budget allotment from the Town Council.

“This is something that’s not new in New York state, but it’s new in Franklin County,” said John Bashaw II, deputy director of County Emergency Services and chairman of the committee looking at separation.

A public meeting is set for 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Fort Covington Fire Hall on Route 37 to discuss formation of the new Fort Covington EMS Inc. and the billing process.

STILL VOLUNTEERS

Bashaw said fire departments in St. Regis Falls, Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Malone separated their rescue units that now bill users for ambulance calls, and Fort Covington believes it can’t afford to wait to do the same.

“We have to legally separate the EMS so we can bill for services,” he said, adding that the emergency-medical technicians responding to calls will still be volunteers, not paid staff.

“Maybe in two or three years down the road, we’ll have paid staff, but it depends on our operating costs,” he said. 

“For example, our fuel bill is $3,600 a year for diesel for the ambulance and upkeep, and all of that comes out of the Fire Department’s budget.”

The Fire Department’s budget, which comes from taxes, is $42,800 this year, Bashaw said, and the large chunk that goes to the rescue side is more than it can really afford.

“EMS needs to be made self-sufficient.”

‘NOT A MONEYMAKER’

The average income from an insurance-billed ambulance call is about $325, and the Fort Covington rescue unit makes between 250 and 300 calls a year, Bashaw said.

“This is not a moneymaker because of the volume of calls we have,” he said. “And if you add in the cost of an ambulance …”

He said that in 2002 an ambulance cost $79,000; the same one this year costs $140,000.

“We’re pretty excited about this,” Bashaw said of the new venture. “We don’t want to bill our people, but we have to pay for the service somehow. 

“It’s just the way it is today.”

BILLING SERVICE

The EMS company has contracted with a billing service to do all of the paperwork associated with the ambulance calls and will pay it a flat fee of $38 per call for the work.

Users will likely have a co-payment for each call, but those who don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay the bill may see their costs waived if approved by the EMS Board of Directors.

Bashaw said he is not sure when trip billing will begin since the paperwork to separate must be approved by the State Department of Health and the Regional EMS Association.

But he hopes things will be started by Nov. 1.

For more information about the separation or EMS service, call Bashaw at 358-9236.

Email Denise A. Raymo:draymo@pressrepublican.com