Oregon City Council on Monday will consider a proposed ordinance that would permit charging residents’ health insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid for emergency ambulance transport services provided by the Fire and Rescue Department.
Revenue generated from the program will help offset the actual cost of providing, maintaining and improving emergency medical services to the community.
The fees will cover Basic Life Support Services (BLS), Advanced Life Support Services (ALS), and ambulance service transport mileage for both ALS and BLS transports provided by the city.
Assistant Fire Chief Paul Mullen said at a committee of the whole meeting on May 6 that Fire Chief Ed Ellis has been working with the city administrator and mayor on the proposed ordinance “so we can recoup some of the money we spend and use on EMS to help our budget.”
Oregon and Jerusalem Township are the only communities that do not “soft bill” residents’ health insurance companies for fire and rescue services, according to Mullen.
“It’s pretty straight forward that we don’t want our residents to get a bill,” said Mullen. “We want to just bill what their insurance is willing to pay. We need to set rates for that. When we set a rate, it’s going to be on what’s comparable to other services in our area. Roughly, about $90, no matter what our charge is going to be, is what Medicaid is going to pay. Medicare is going to pay about 80 percent. We’re going to bill for mileage. There will be training we’ll have to give our firefighters. We’re going to use electronic run reporting. There will be some trials and tribulations there, I’m sure.”
If the measure is passed, the city has chosen Medicount Management, Inc., to process the billing procedures, according to Administrator Mike Beazley.
“We set up a committee that looked at a number of companies that we met with at length,” said Beazley. “Three companies made presentations, and we reviewed their qualifications. We had a really strong consensus that Medicount had the experience and the approach that worked best, first for our citizens, but really for our firefighters as well, so there would be the most seamless effort to provide service.”
The city will propose another ordinance that spells out the rates, said Beazley.
The city has not yet decided how aggressively it will collect from non-residents.
“That’s the other piece that’s out there. We recognize the non-residents that end up getting the service might be our customers, employees, relatives. The law requires we send a bill to the residents, but we don’t have to. There’s an accepted practice and range of responses,” said Beazley.
Councilman Jerry Peach said some on council have been reluctant over the years to impose any kind of fees for fire and rescue services.
“Volunteer firefighters have given freely of their time over the years without regard to expecting people they help to be billed for those services,” said Peach. “I think we agree we have reached that point where it doesn’t make financial sense for the city to no longer decline to bill for certain services.”
Councilman Terry Reeves expressed concerns that billing insurance companies would cause an increase in residents’ health insurance premiums.
“I just feel it’s going to raise premiums eventually. I know it’s not going to happen right away,” said Reeves.
The fire department would collect about $200,000 annually if the measure is passed.
Councilman Dennis Walendzak said soft billing should enhance funding for the fire department.
“I don’t want us to then diminish the amount of money we put forth for the fire department’s budget. I don’t want to replace funds with this. I want to make sure the fire department continues to be fully funded. I would like to enhance their monies rather than offset their monies,” he said.
“That was never the intent, just to replace money to free up money for other services in the city,” said Mayor Mike Seferian. “It was to continue to move the fire department forward.”
The city currently has three fire stations: Fire Station 1, at Seaman and Wynn roads; Fire Station 2 at Wheeling Street and I-280, and Fire Station 3 on Bay Shore Road. Most of the fire department’s $2 million budget is appropriated from the general fund, while a smaller percentage comes from a .5 mill fire levy.