Ga. EMS provider seeks increased ambulance fees
Leaders at Gold Cross EMS are looking to raise fees from $1,150 base rate and around $20 per mile to a $1,750 base rate and $28 per mile
The Augusta Chronicle, Ga.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Calling an ambulance for a medical emergency could cost some Augustans more under a proposal from EMS provider Gold Cross.
The rate increase request appears as a city subcommittee debates options for the city's EMS provider, such as response times and how to subsidize the service.
The proposed rates are a $1,750 base rate and $28 per mile, according to correspondence from Gold Cross CEO Vince Brogdon. The current rate is $1,150 and around $20 per mile.
Expenses for insurance, fuel, supplies, parts, vehicles and operations have gone up, he said.
"We are seeking to adjust our rates to match other areas, such as Atlanta, Macon and Columbus," he said.
But around 70% of Augusta- Richmond County residents who use an ambulance are unlikely to notice the change, Gold Cross Vice President Steven Vincent offered.
That's because nearly one-third rely on Medicare, while 40% are covered by Medicaid, Vincent said.
That segment — of low-income, disabled or over-65 residents — is more likely to use an ambulance, while Gold Cross is only reimbursed the government-approved rate of less than $400 per trip, he said.
"People don't realize that for 70% of our transports we're getting paid less than $400," he said. Only around 12% of actual EMS users have private insurance, he said.
Using the industry-standard pricing website fairhealthconsumer.org, Gold Cross' proposed rates are identical to those in Columbus, a similar-sized Georgia city. Columbus EMS is run in-house using six city-owned ambulances and six provided by three private providers.
The proposed rates are similar to those in Atlanta's DeKalb and Fulton counties, where an ambulance trip with advanced life support costs around $1,700, but less than on the coast. Savannah charges a base rate of $1,196 and $30 per mile.
An ambulance also costs less in neighboring Columbia County, where Gold Cross is provider as well. There, the base rate is $1,150 and mileage is $16.50 per mile, county officials said.
Always a factor is the subsidy — and Columbia County's subsidy is higher than what Augusta currently pays Gold Cross, Vincent said.
Martinez-based Gold Cross has provided Augusta with the service for at least 15 years. In 2014 it won state designation as the sole provider for all Augusta-Richmond County EMS calls, and litigation between the two parties persisted for years.
Under a current memorandum of understanding, Augusta pays Gold Cross an annual subsidy of $650,000, but some Augusta commissioners have discussed raising it or even eliminating it, which the commission initially did when Gold Cross won the zone in 2014.
In a subcommittee meeting earlier this month, Commissioner Ben Hasan pressed state EMS Director David Newton on whether governments are even required to pay providers a subsidy. Newton wouldn't specify but said such decisions are left to local governments.
The memorandum requires Gold Cross to have eight ambulances available for Augusta emergency medical calls and bill the rates set by the commission, which is expected to conduct an annual review of rates.
The commission reauthorized the agreement in November after taking two city ambulances out of service. An independent study claimed having Augusta firefighters operate the ambulances was hurting morale and increasing costs, although combining fire and EMS is the trend nationwide.
Augusta Commissioner John Clarke, one of four or five steady Gold Cross supporters on the 10-member commission, put the request on Thursday's regular meeting agenda.
Clarke said while Gold Cross isn't being allowed to participate in subcommittee meetings, it is keenly aware of its role in the discussions.
As for the rate increase, "the only people that will notice the rate increase are the people that actually pay their bill," he said.
The meeting replaces this week's committee meetings and is rescheduled from next Tuesday due to the July 4 holiday.
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