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N.M. regulators recommend lower ambulance rates, mileage charges

Officials recommended a lower rate than what Albuquerque Ambulance Service sought


Albuquerque Ambulance Service

By Nicholas Gilmore
The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M.—State regulators have an extended deadline this week to reach a deal with a nonprofit ambulance organization that is seeking to double its rates and hike its mileage charges.

Albuquerque Ambulance Service, affiliated with Presbyterian Healthcare Services, is the highest-volume provider of emergency and nonemergency medical transportation in New Mexico, serving patients in Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Rio Arriba counties.

Staff of the state Public Regulation Commission recommended a 35% increase to the nonprofit’s various ambulance rates and a 10% increase in mileage fees, significantly lower than what was requested in a January rate case application.

Although an initial deadline for a stipulated agreement between commission staff and Albuquerque Ambulance Service has passed, commission spokesman Patrick Rodriguez wrote in an email an extension was granted, setting a new deadline Wednesday.

If a settlement is not reached, the commission will hold a hearing on the case on April 15.

Rodriguez declined to provide a comment from commission staff but wrote there would be an opportunity for public comment on the proposed increase at the beginning of the hearing, and written public comment is now being accepted.

Albuquerque Ambulance Service, which already has some of the highest ambulance costs in the region, has proposed increases that would double its base charges for the first mile of service at different levels and increase mileage costs by 25%. Under the proposal, charges for specialty care transport would rise from $1,072 to $2,144. That number is down from even higher increases of about 175% sought in August. The nonprofit attributed the more modest request to an increase in Medicaid reimbursement rates that became effective retroactively to July 1.

According to testimony from commission staff filed in March, an analysis of the nonprofit’s finances showed it has operated at a loss for four years due to increasing costs for labor and supplies.

The CEO testified a competitive job market for emergency services has forced the company to recruit out of state. The total costs to the nonprofit for sign-on and retention bonuses has risen from about $15,000 in 2014 — when Albuquerque Ambulance Service last received approval for a rate increase — to nearly $1.07 million in 2021, he said.

Commission staff analysts sought more information from the nonprofit regarding its cash balances over the last 10 years, any subsidies received from Bernalillo County and a breakdown of services and debt balances with Presbyterian in recent years.

Alyssa Armijo, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian, declined to provide such information or to comment on settlement negotiations but said the organization is preparing to submit documents to the commission.

Armijo wrote in an email Albuquerque Ambulance Service “experienced acute financial challenges during and post-COVID.”

“The economic changes stemming from the pandemic accelerated the need to request a tariff increase,” Armijo wrote. “We have typically held off on rate increases until absolutely necessary.”

Asked whether the organization was concerned about the potential for higher rates to discourage people from calling for an ambulance, even if they need one, Armijo wrote the company would “continue to work with individuals who may have difficulty paying.”

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