County approves rate increase

Published 11:03 am Friday, May 22, 2009

That trip to the hospital is going to cost more soon.

The Lawrence County Commission Thursday gave its blessing to a rate increase for ambulance calls.

County officials estimate that by shifting the cost of ambulance service more heavily on those who use it, less county general fund money will be used to subsidize ambulance service. They estimate this move will save the county $400,000 this year and $800,000 next year.

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Beginning June 1, a person who calls for a Southeast Ohio Emergency Medical Service ambulance will pay $650 for an ambulance call if they are taken to a hospital plus $11 for each mile they are in the ambulance.

SEOEMS will also charge $200 for what is called treat-no-transport runs, that is, requests for lifting assistance or some kind of care that does not involve a trip to the hospital but still requires some kind of medical care.

Right now, SEOEMS fees are $250 for a basic life support (BLS) call and $400 for an advance life support (ALS) call. There is also a $6.50 per loaded mile fee.

SEOEMS charges $50 for treat-no-transport runs. (A BLS run usually involves minor care, such as a broken bone. An ALS run usually involves care of a person who has suffered a severe trauma that might require intravenous fluids, administration of medication or other more serious medical care.)

SEOEMS Director Eric Kuhn said he checked to see what other people in neighboring counties pay for an ambulance call. By comparison, Lawrence County’s rates are low. In Boyd County, Ky., a BLS run costs $500; an ALS run is between $700 and $800 and the cost per loaded mile is $11.

Carter County, Ky., charged $500 for a BLS run, between $650-$850 per ALS run and $12 per loaded mile. Cabell County, W.Va., residents pay $300 for BLS and between $400 and $516 for ALS care.

Kuhn and SEOEMS paramedic Terry Dolin also presented the commission with a petition bearing the names of 600 county residents who agreed to support an EMS levy if it is placed on the ballot in November.

The county commission requires any group that asks voters for a levy to first circulate a petition to determine what kind of support the levy would have in the community and to educate people about what the levy is. Dolin said few people approached refused to sign the petition. Many people, he said, thought the county still had an EMS levy (it was replaced 12 years ago with the half-percent sales tax). He said there does appear to be some support for an EMS levy.

“We stopped at Walmart and got more than 400 signatures in about two hours,” Dolin said.

Commissioner Jason Stephens said he is not sure an ambulance service levy is necessary now but wants to see how the new fees affect the county’s bottom line.

Right now the county pays roughly $1.4 million a year to operate ambulance service. The money comes from the county’s half-percent sales tax but Stephens pointed out that each year the cost of providing state-mandated services continues to soar and the county is forced to use more and more of the half-percent sales tax to meet these other needs.

This is the second time this year SEOEMS fees were raised. The commission agreed to a $50 hike in January, the first time in five years SEOEMS has raised its rates.

In other matters, the commission agreed to ask Brown-Raybourn of Ashland, Ky., the county’s insurance company, to provide information about the county’s health insurance history to the Commission Employee Benefits Consortium of Ohio (CEBCO) in hopes of getting a health insurance quote from that entity.

Commissioner Les Boggs wants to explore CEBCO as a means of saving money on health insurance for employees. Boggs said he has nothing against Brown-Raybourn, but health insurance could be one area where the county can save money.

“Just to sit back and do nothing is an injustice to the taxpayer,” Boggs said, noting that the county now spends roughly $4.1 million on health insurance. “That’s a significant amount,” he said.