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September 10, 2009

Albemarle takes first step towards charging for ambulance services

Reader comments (3) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors have taken the first step towards charging for ambulance service. At their meeting on September 9, 2009, the Board voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that gives the County and volunteer rescue squads the ability to charge fees to those who require an ambulance.

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The County provides about 2,000 transports a year from the ambulance service offered from the Hollymead and Monticello fire stations, which could result in $400,000 in funds generated for the County.

Volunteer rescue squads  would also be eligible to charge the fee once they receive a permit from the County. The money generated would be used to help fund the County’s investments in the rescue squads.

Over forty localities across Virginia have such a system in place, including Orange and Louisa Counties. The ordinance does not specify how much would be charged, but states that “reasonable fees” would be set by the Board of Supervisors.

“The ordinance also specifically provides that no person shall be denied emergency medical services due to an inability to pay,” said County Attorney Larry Davis. The County would be required to set up a compassionate billing program. Davis said most people would have their fees covered by Medicare, Medicaid or their insurance providers.

Davis said the adoption of this ordinance is just the first step in the County implementing the fee. Other steps would be securing a contract with a company to handle the account, negotiations with area rescue squads to find out if they want to participate, and a public relations campaign to explain the program to citizens.

Only one person spoke during the public hearing, which was held at 9:30 PM. David Zimmerman, a volunteer with the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS), urged the County to get out of the ambulance business.

Supervisor Dennis Rooker (Jack Jouett) said that 85% of Americans live in an area where revenue recovery programs are in place.  He argued that contributions to Medicare and Medicaid fund the service, and this is a way to reclaim funds that the County deserves.

“Everyone knows about the bleak state of finances for all localities,” Rooker said. “This is one place where we can obtain some fees for services that are generally picked up by third-parties other than our citizens.”

Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner told City Council in January that the City did not need to begin charging the EMS revenue recovery fee.

The resource utilization study commissioned by the Board of Supervisors recommended in February that the County charge the fee.

County staff will get together to assess how to put the process in place for Hollymead and Monticello. Conversations will be continuing with the rescue squad representatives about developing a process for bringing them in if they choose to participate.


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