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Ambulance plan offers a ride free of worries

When you have a medical emergency, you don't want to worry about how much the ambulance ride will cost.

Sunstar, the county's ambulance service, is once again offering a plan that can cut those costs, which run about $500 per transport.

The plan, called Sunstar FirstCare Ambu lance Membership Plan, is accepting new members until March 31.

It's not an insurance plan, but it works in a similar way. For an annual fee of $45 for individuals or $70 for families, the plan limits out-of-pocket expenses for all ambulance transportation in the county that is deemed medically necessary. That means there must be a specific medical need for an ambulance or an advanced life support crew.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time we know it's obviously medically necessary and don't question it," said Janice Metzger, finance manager for Pinellas County EMS.

In cases where insurance or Medicare coverage is denied, doctors need to certify that transports were necessary.

Penny Gilray, the social director at Blue Jay Estates mobile home park, said residents who need major medical care have balked at taking ambulances because they're worried their insurance won't cover it.

To make sure residents at the 55-plus park get immediate attention when they need it, she invites a plan representative to explain the service to them.

"Sunstar, unfortunately, comes in here on a regular basis. Sometimes the plan will cover things their plan does not. They don't have to worry and get an immediate response," Gilray said.

The plan covers insurance copayments and deductibles for people who have insurance and provides a 20 percent discount for people who don't have insurance or Medicare. If insurance or Medicare denies a claim, but the doctor deems the ambulance necessary, the plan absorbs all transport costs.

The family plan covers all family members related by blood or marriage who live in the same home, making it convenient for people taking care of elderly relatives, county spokeswoman Maggie Hall said. Members are covered for all annual transports that meet plan guidelines, and there are no membership cards. Participants simply fill out applications, send them in and are coded into the system as members, Hall said.

The plan has about 8,300 members. Sunstar made about 109,000 transports last year, with about 2,400 of them covered by the plan, Metzger said.

Sunstar FirstCare Ambulance Membership plan may not be practical for everyone, Hall said, especially those who have insurance plans that cover their ambulance bills.

TO JOIN

Membership applications are available at the county courthouse information desk, County Connection centers and the Pinellas County EMS/Sunstar building at 12490 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Online applications are available at pinellascounty.org/ems/

contract.pdf. For information, call 582-2008.

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