EMS Volunteers Oppose Third-Party Billing

Late last year the Trumansburg village board approached the Trumansburg Fire Company about instituting third-party billing for ambulance and EMS services. The Trumansburg Fire Company formed the ambulance service over 30 years ago and now provides the volunteers to staff the ambulance from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven days a week. A paid ambulance staff provides coverage from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is funded through taxes. Presently, if you need an ambulance for treatment and transport to the hospital you do not get billed. The introduction of third-party billing will mean that you will. As an active paramedic in the ambulance corps and a resident of the village I have concerns.
I think it is important the community understands that the most active volunteers in our EMS service are dead set against this. Unless you’ve done it, it is hard to explain what drives volunteer EMS people to make the huge commitment we have to serve the community. Suffice it to say that the idea of knowing that the people we serve will now receive a bill for our good will and charity tears away the spirit of why we do it. Will the elderly person that just needs an assist to get back into bed get a bill? Will the family who just lost a loved one that we confirmed dead get a bill? Will the school that we serve as stand-by at sporting events get a bill? Will the person having chest pain or an asthma attack try to ride it out instead of calling the ambulance because they either have no insurance or a high-deductible insurance policy?
As a resident, I have multiple concerns. I understand the point of view that providing this service is becoming increasingly expensive and tapping into insurance policies can help subsidize this. What will most likely happen is that the EMS budget will double within a couple of years after this is implemented, if not sooner. In my opinion, third party billing will be the death knell for the volunteer EMS service. With decreasing numbers of active volunteers this was likely to occur at some point in time, but third-party billing will end it for sure. When this happens, where will the local governments find the funds to support paid 24/7 coverage when the projected income from billing will not even cover the current budget? Increased taxes, that’s where.
I am concerned over the liability my government is exposing itself to. It has become public knowledge and is in the public record that the village will not aggressively pursue the uninsured or underinsured for payment. Will that be the case if the income stream falls short of their projections? I also wonder if the insurance companies are paying attention to this policy. Anyone know what fraud is? As a taxpayer who will have to bail our government out for their mistakes, I am concerned.
My greatest concern is that I don’t think the village has looked at all options. One option would be to operate as they do in Lansing, Newfield, Danby and Enfield where first responders respond to the call in rescue vehicles and treat the patient until Bangs Ambulance arrives to transport. This option would eliminate our entire EMS budget, saving taxpayers hundreds of thousands of tax dollars. If this were only about saving taxes, this would be the most cost effective way to go. There are numerous other options that could be considered as well, including 100 percent tax-supported.
The village approached the fire company as a potential partner in this endeavor. By their own admission the volunteers are needed for this to work. The idea of third-party billing would have been more palatable to the volunteers if it were the public we serve that made the decision on how to fund EMS services. That is why the recommendation from the task force on billing, on which I served, recommended that we seek public approval for this billing, preferably through a referendum.
Recently, we were informed by the village that a referendum on an issue like this is illegal. Therefore, on Wednesday night June 18 at 7 p.m. at the Trumansburg Elementary School there will be a public hearing on the proposed billing. This will be the only opportunity for the citizens in the Village of Trumansburg, the Town of Ulysses, and the portions of the Towns of Covert and Hector that we cover to speak for or against this important proposition.

Norman Hummel
Village of Trumansburg
EMT-Paramedic

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