By G. Michael Dobbs
CHICOPEE – The Ambulance Commission has recommended an increase in rates, but an explanation to the Ordinance Committee of the City Council explained the hikes are not as extreme as they first seem.
The two groups met on April 8 to discuss the proposed increases, which will have to be approved by the full council.
Ambulance Commission member Katherine Collins-Kalbaugh explained that in the past, the ambulance rates reflected just the transportation of a patient to the hospital and that other services, such as the administration of oxygen, were billed separately.
Now, to be in line with the Affordable Care Act, the commission has proposed “bundling” the costs of the transportation with typical medical services. Collins-Kalbaugh said that surrounding communities have started bundling their ambulance rates.
She added that “90 percent of private insurance companies want the bundling [of fees].”
She cited as an example a current rate of $716 that has been bundled with typical services and increased to $817. The actual transportation rate in the new price has increased only 3.7 percent.
“It looks a lot higher,” City Councilor James Tillotson said.
The majority of people who use the ambulance service in Chicopee are on Medicare, Collins-Kalbaugh said. She cited statistics from 2012 that stated 69 percent of the ambulance patients were on federal insurance program.
Medicare pays only a portion of the established rates, she explained. People who are privately insured or have no insured are billed the full rates.
While Medicare pays its own rate, the city could see an increase in revenue through the private insurance companies, Tillotson said.
Collins-Kalbaugh said the commission does a full and partial abatement program for city residents who are not insured and cannot pay the full rate. The abatements are strictly based on income and people who have less than $23,340 in income are considered for a rebate.
Despite the Massachusetts law requiring having health insurance, she said, “Unfortunately we still get requests monthly from people who are uninsured or under-insured.”
Some people who are insured have large deductibles and co-pays for ambulance serves in the hundreds of dollars, she added.
The Ordinance Committee passed a motion to recommend approval of the new ambulance rates.