Reimbursement Rates Need To Be Increased

There is obviously demand for ambulance services in Chautauqua County.

Two weeks ago, Jamestown firefighters expressed their displeasure with the department’s staffing level if city firefighters are going to be expected to provide more ambulance transports. In 2017, Alstar Ambulance turned away 4,000 calls because it had no one to answer them. Then, last week, county emergency services officials discussed with Chautauqua County legislators the lack of available ambulance transports to get people from hospital to hospital, with some patients waiting up to six hours before they are finally moved.

If there is demand for ambulance service, why is there no rush to supply those services?

Decreasing reimbursement rates are one problem, according to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services. Last year, the journal noted that costs continue to rise for EMS providers while reimbursements alone are not enough to keep pace with costs. Attempts to reduce Medicare reimbursements, an increase in Medicaid use through the Affordable Care Act and the mergers of insurance companies have combined to increase the pressure on reimbursement rates that EMS providers say have always been too low.

Decisions made at the federal and state level have a way of trickling down to the local level, and in this instance those decisions are having an impact on public safety.

Alstar Ambulance is having a hard time paying its EMTs enough to compete with county employees who provide the same service. Because Alstar is out of service more often, city firefighters are using the city’s sole ambulance more often, which takes time away from other EMS and fire responses. And, volunteers are being called to respond to calls as part of the mutual aid system. All of this means people are waiting for medical treatment at times when minutes lost could make all the difference between life and death.

Now, we can put a price tag onto the price of decisions made in Albany and Washington, D.C.

There is not an option in Mayor Sam Teresi’s Emergency Medical Services plan that makes a lick of sense for Jamestown taxpayers. The costs to staff an EMS operation far exceed revenues that can be earned regardless of whether the EMS plan uses the Jamestown Fire Department, a separate city-run department, a private management contract or through a local development corporation.

The cheapest option still loses, conservatively, $401,544.95 a year. Teresi has called his EMS plan a break glass in case of emergency plan. He could also call it a break bank in case of emergency plan, because Jamestown in its current financial state can’t afford any of its options.

The best option is for private business, either Alstar or another company, to be able to handle ambulance needs in Jamestown. That won’t be possible until reimbursement rates for ambulance responses increase. It’s time for the federal government to take action now, before it’s too late.


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