Manatee talks EMS fee increases, competition for non-emergency transport

jtate@bradenton.comOctober 2, 2013 

MANATEE -- Manatee County administrators proposed increasing emergency medical services fees and looked for guidance from county commissioners on allowing competition for the first time in three decades for non-emergency transport services.

Ronald Koper Jr., interim director for the public safety department, discussed the user fee increase Tuesday morning during the Board of County Commission work session. He said the proposed user fee increase will allow EMS to make roughly $200,000 more from services. Revenue from services is now $8.5 million.

"Collected revenue would come from commercial insurers," said Koper. "Call volume is increasing."

The EMS budget is $12.1 million -- and the $3.6 million difference from service revenue is now covered by the county general fund.

If approved, basic life support non-emergency fees will increase 23.8 percent from $323 to $400, and basic life support emergency fees will increase 22.8 percent from $407 to $500.

Koper said the increase will make county rates comparable to neighboring counties. The county has not changed its fees since 2008, Koper said.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino said a variable that stuck out for her is self-pay.

"It's really not good to increase the cost because people who can pay will have to make up the cost," she said.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore said she wasn't sure how revenue was going to be generated.

By the end of the presentation, however, all commissioners were ready to move to the next step in updating the ordinance.

"I got no reason to doubt what you're saying. I'm all for it," said Commissioner Larry Bustle.

Officials also discussed opening inter-facility transport to competition for the first time in three decades.

West Coast Southern Medical Services Inc. has been the only company to provide inter-facility transport for 30 years in Manatee County, said county administrator Edwin Hunzeker.

Koper said competition would encourage providers to continually improve service.

"I'm not suggesting that we don't have a good system now, but how are we improving the quality and improving the service?" asked Koper.

Carole McGowan, West Coast vice president, said there is no need for multiple ambulance services in the county.

"We don't see a need with call volume that low and that much indigent services," McGowan said.

She said her company has done 2,734 runs so far this year.

"We take them regardless if they can pay in Manatee County. A lot of those calls are written off because people cannot afford to pay," she said.

Commissioners instructed Koper to meet with the county attorney to draft the ordinance with the suggestion to not have the county compete for business with the private sector.

Janey Tate, city of Bradenton and Palmetto reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. You can follow her on Twitter at Janey_Tate.

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