Fla. county waives ambulance fees for residents
A new policy went into effect May 1 in which Bay County will only collect the amount insurance pays, and nothing out of pocket
By Katie Landeck
The News Herald
PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The cost of ambulance bills will no longer add insult to injury for Bay County residents.
A new policy went into effect May 1 in which the county will only collect the amount insurance pays, and nothing out of pocket, for ambulance transports of Bay residents with insurance, and nothing from residents who don't have insurance.
"EMS is a public service," said Mark Bowen, the county's chief of emergency services. "A lot of people over the years told us they hesitate to call 911 (because of the cost), and that is the last thing we want."
At a price that could exceed $1,400 per ride, before Monday the county had the highest rates in the state for an ambulance ride.
However, when the county commission voted to give the ambulance service a $2.2 million EMS subsidy out of its budget, officials felt it only fair that residents be given a break on the ambulance bills. The rate system will remain the same for riders who are not county residents, who make up about 17 percent of all transports.
County Commissioner Bill Dozier said other areas of the states run similar programs.
"There are other areas that have a similar structure in place, and it's worked very well for them," he said. "As we looked at the numbers and put all the information together, we feel this will benefit the citizens of Bay County the best, being able to do this for them, without raising taxes."
By adopting the policy, the county is foregoing the collection of about $400,000 to $500,000 a year, according to county documents. However, that figure represents the invoiced amount, not the amount that was actually paid, which officials have said is considerably less.
In addition to the payment changes, the county is also upgrading its EMS equipment. On Tuesday, the commission voted to sell four ambulances that had reached end-of-life, to help pay for nine new ambulances the county is purchasing.
The purchase, which will cost over $1.5 million, marks the first time the county has bought brand new vehicles since they took over ambulance services in October 2013.
"This has been a long time in coming," Bowen said. "They're so old, parts aren't made for them anymore."
Maintaining the ambulances was becoming a challenge — to keep eight on the road at any time, the county was paying to maintain 13 to 14, according to Bowen. By purchasing the new vehicles, he said the county will save money on maintenance costs.
In addition, the ambulances were looking their age, with ripped and duct-taped upholstery, Bowen said.
"It's certainly time to get new ambulances," Dozier said. "They've lived their life out."
The county is hoping to sell the four surplus ambulances for about $14,000.
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