BROOKSVILLE — A ride in an ambulance could soon get more expensive for many Hernando County residents.
Hernando County Fire Rescue is asking for significant ambulance fee increases from the County Commission on Tuesday.
Ambulance rates have not changed since 1998 while the cost of providing emergency medical services has seen dramatic increases, Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief Michael Nickerson told commissioners in a March 31 memo.
"The price of diesel alone has increased over 400 percent,'' he wrote. "Other inflationary factors include: the cost of replacement ambulances, fleet maintenance, EMS supplies and personnel costs.''
If approved by the commission, the new rate structure would go into effect May 1 and would generate an additional $138,000 annually for a total collection annually of $2.725-million.
The increases would not impact residents of Spring Hill. Ambulance fees were raised for Spring Hill Fire Rescue last year.
Under the proposal, the cost of basic life support would jump from $300 to $355. Advanced life support services would be split into two tiers with a higher fee for critical care patients needing more advanced services. Currently, the advanced life support fee is $430 and the proposal would increase that to $450 for the first tier and $575 for those needing more care.
In addition to the basic fees, the proposal would increase the cost of vehicle accident extrication and stabilization from $100 to $150, on-scene care without transport from $50 to $75 and the mileage charge from $7 to $9 per mile.
Hernando County Fire Rescue provides ambulance service to about 78,000 Hernando County residents over a 420-square mile area. Part of the operation is financed through property taxes paid by residents in that region through a special taxing district.
Transport fees offset some of that cost.
Ambulances also respond to accidents on Interstate 75 and other major roads that carry nonresidents who are not paying taxes to support the department as well as local residents who do not pay property taxes, said Assistant Chief Frank DeFrancesco.
"To recoup some of the costs, we have to bill,'' he said.
In his memo, Nickerson noted that, "it is very important to all the EMS district's tax payers that the user fees be maintained at a fair and justified level.''
That is why department staff asked their private billing agency, Diversified Ambulance Billing Inc., to conduct a rate study. The proposed increases came from that study.
In her report to Hernando County Fire Rescue, the billing company's president Diane L. Vick examined the levels at which private insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid reimburse for ambulance
"Hernando County Fire Rescue should seek to optimize the maximum reimbursement available by all insurance companies,'' she recommended.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.