Houston Fire Dept. proposes sharp hike in ambulance fees

The 70 percent increase in transport fees was proposed in the hopes that it would prevent repeat callers from using the city's emergency medical services

By Mike Morris
Houston Chronicle

HOUSTON — Houston Fire Department leaders on Tuesday proposed a sharp hike in ambulance fees and floating several new charges they hope will prevent repeat callers from using the city's emergency medical services as a convenience.

Ambulance transport fees would rise for the first time in six years to $1,876, a 70 percent increase; the accompanying $14.36-per-mile fee would not change.

"In essence, the taxpayers of the city of Houston are subsidizing every medical transport call," Fire Chief Sam Pena told a city council committee Tuesday. "We are not recouping what we incur to deliver that service."

Houston also would levy new fees in cases where paramedics respond—at an estimated cost of $1,400 per trip—but the city currently recoups none of its costs.

The proposed fees include a $365 charge when a patient dies at the scene, a $175 fee when a caller is treated at the scene and does not need to be transported to a hospital, and a $175 charge when a caller's only request is to be moved, such as after a fall at home or at a nursing home, or when a resident wants to be moved from a wheelchair to a bed.

HFD leaders hope the latter fees spur residents and staff at nursing facilities to rethink what constitutes an emergency that requires a call to 911, and to better grasp the difference between the city's trained paramedics and the purely transport role provided by private ambulance companies.

"We're targeting the habitual people that call us day in and day out to move them from the bed to the wheelchair and two hours later they call us back to move them from the wheelchair to the bed," HFD Assistant Chief Justin Wells said. "This spurs a discussion. These people that call routinely out of convenience instead of emergency, this might change their behavior."

That city's proposed ambulance transport fee would be the highest among the nine cities surveyed by a financial consulting firm the city hired to produce a long-term plan last year.

That firm, PFM, recommended the city raise ambulance fees, improve the roughly 40 percent rate at which it typically collects those fees, and impose the new charges HFD outlined Tuesday.

Copyright 2018 Houston Chronicle

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