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Milwaukee’s private ambulance services blame low reimbursement for staffing shortages

Some companies have left the city due to staffing issues that the remaining services say come down to unsustainable reimbursement rates

By Laura French

MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee’s private ambulance services say low Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are driving staffing shortages that have caused some providers to end their contracts with the city.

Paratech, one of the city’s private ambulance providers, recently pulled out of its 911 agreement with the city due to staffing issues, according to WTMJ. Officials from the remaining ambulance services in the city told WTMJ that the EMS staffing shortages are widespread and that companies can’t afford to hire enough EMTs because of low reimbursement.

Under the city’s 911 agreement, private companies respond to calls that are not life-threatening while the Milwaukee Fire Department responds to more serious calls. Bell Ambulance Director of Operations Chris Anderson and Curtis Ambulance CEO Jim Baker said most of their patients are covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The cost for a private ambulance transport in Milwaukee is about $525, according to WTMJ, but both Medicare and Medicaid pay less than that per transport. Wisconsin Department of Health data provided by the Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin shows that Medicare pays about $365 per transport while Medicaid in Wisconsin pays only $185 per transport.

“I think at some point in time someone has to wake up and go this isn’t working,” Baker told WTMJ. “In the last year alone we’ve lost 4 ambulance services. So it’s kind of a warning sign. You’re not going to get sirens because there won’t be any ambulances around.”

State lawmakers would need to approve increased funding for Medicaid in order to improve reimbursement rates in Milwaukee. State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), who sits on the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee and is a former volunteer firefighter, said the reimbursement rates could potentially be adjusted to match the costs for private ambulance services or at least match Medicare rates. State Democrats have called for a further expansion of Medicaid in the state.