Wis. EMS agency dips into reserves fund to cover $1.2M in outstanding medical costs
Officials said bill payments have slowed for services rendered, which leaves the ambulance service unable to keep up with its expenses
By Bridget Cooke
BARABOO, Wis. — The Baraboo District Ambulance Service has reached its highest accounts receivable amount yet as it uses reserve funds to continue operations while attempting to collect debts owed for past calls.
EMS Chief Dana Sechler said the service’s accounts receivable has reached more than $1.2 million. Because bills vary each month, he said he did not have the exact amount for recent revenue. In the past, the organization has used reserve funds to make up the difference on a monthly basis but has faced a higher amount of uncollected bill payments than before.
“Basically, we’re needing to continue to go back and follow up on those claims,” Sechler said.
The lack of revenue has prompted Sechler to notify members of the Baraboo Common Council and discuss the possibility of taking out a line of credit until the next budget is drafted. Sechler said the service recently hired a bill collection specialist as part of its efforts to collect on debts. Another crucial member of its bill collection staff just returned from military service and rejoined the service, also making an effort to recover funds owed to the service.
Sechler said there have been “ebbs and flows” in the past and does not foresee the service running out of funds.
Baraboo is one of eight communities that receive emergency medical responses from the ambulance service. The agency also covers West Baraboo and the towns of Baraboo, Greenfield, Fairfield, Freedom and parts of Exelsior and Sumpter. According to the group’s website, the service area covers more than 18,500 people in addition to more than 100,000 tourists who visit the area each year.
Baraboo is its largest member, contributing 67% of its funding, Baraboo City Administrator Edward Geick said.
“It’s a very important service to the city,” Geick said. “Disruptions would be a problem.”
Geick said Troy Snow, who oversees finances for the service, Sechler, city Finance Director Cynthia Haggard and himself met recently to evaluate the concerns brought to council members and the Ambulance Commission. No decisions were made, but Geick said he hopes commission members can agree on a general plan to deal with the financial problems suffered by the ambulance service.
“This will probably take some time to work out,” Geick said. “Some people pay faster than others.”
Bill payments have been recovered more slowly than usual, which leaves the ambulance service unable to keep up with its expenses, he said. Geick added that a line of credit may be the best option for a short-term remedy.
Sechler said the service takes from reserves each week to cover expenses because revenue has not been sufficient. Receivables have been as low as $600,000 in recent years. Part of the problem is the lack of Medicare payments given to the service. Sechler said if emergency services do not have to transfer a patient in duress, the program does not reimburse for aid administered at the scene. Sechler also said residents within the district pay the lowest rates per capita in Wisconsin at $24 per taxpayer. The state average is between $35 to $45.
Though the lack of funding coming in is a concern, Sechler said the service intends to recover as much money owed to it as possible by re-sending bills and utilizing a state collection agency to prompt people to pay their outstanding debts.
“We’re taking steps to alert our commissioners,” Sechler said. “It was enough for us to tell them we’ve had to use our reserves more than usual.”