NC EMS agency promotes ambulance subscription program

Gaston County's GEMS-CARE lets people who pay an annual fee avoid out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary ambulance transportation


By Dashiell Coleman
Gaston Gazette

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — Ohio Seconds count in emergencies.

Workplace accidents, car wrecks and sudden medical problems can all result in someone needing to be rushed to a hospital. Paramedics with life-saving skills and technology can prove invaluable in those situations, as can ambulances equipped to help people survive.

Gaston County's GEMS-CARE  lets people who pay an annual fee avoid out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary ambulance transportation. (Photo/GEMS)
Gaston County's GEMS-CARE lets people who pay an annual fee avoid out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary ambulance transportation. (Photo/GEMS)

Ambulance rides, though, can be notoriously expensive — as much as $900, according to Gaston County EMS. Many insurance providers require patients to cover at least some of the cost. It’s a hardship that can be felt especially by people who require multiple ambulance trips.

“We have quite a few patients that we transport multiple times a year,” said Deputy EMS Chief Jamie McConnell.

Last year, the county quietly rolled out something of a subscription service, GEMS-CARE, which lets people who pay an annual fee avoid out-of-pocket costs for medically necessary ambulance transportation. It’s not a substitute for insurance, but it can alleviate co-pay burdens. Individuals can pay $50 and be covered for just emergency care and transport or $100 for emergency and medically necessary non-emergency care and transport to a hospital. For households of any size, those subscriptions run $100 and $150, respectively.

“We would still bill their insurance but we would waive the patient co-pay as long as the transport was a medically necessary transport to a hospital,” McConnell said.

Uninsured patients who buy subscriptions will still be on the hook for 50 percent of the ambulance bill.

The county started the program in 2017 but only “one or two” people signed up. In 2018, Gaston EMS decided to promote the program more and sent out brochures to accompany homeowners’ property tax bills. As of the end of November, 53 individuals and 32 households had signed up for the program. Gaston EMS is hoping more people sign up for 2019, but McConnell says he doesn’t foresee the county dropping the program even if there’s not much participation. Subscriptions have to be renewed every year.

The program was proposed by EMS Chief Mark Lamphiear, who came to Gaston County from Oregon, where such programs are more commonplace.

Gaston EMS made about 27,600 transports from November 2017 to November 2018.

Paramedics do a lot more than just take people to the hospital. Ambulances provide advanced life support, and paramedics can recognize signs of issues like heart attacks or strokes so that medical teams can be ready upon arrival to a hospital.

“If you’re on Crowders Mountain or you’re on Lake Wylie we come to you and start care at that point,” McConnell said. “Once you’re stabilized, we get you on the ambulance and get you to the hospital. It’s a lot more than an ambulance ride. We reach, assess, treat and transport.”

McConnell said people who might need multiple ambulance transports a year are those with chronic conditions.

“The cotton industry here was big, so we have a lot of people with upper respiratory illnesses that are chronic,” McConnell said. “Smoking was big here in the South, so we have a lot of people with COPD from that. Cardiac disease, diabetes — those are the conditions that cause us to have repeat transports.”

People who are interested in the service can sign up online or by check.

Copyright 2018 Gaston Gazette

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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