January 8, 2013
Ambulance services get boost
Local ambulance providers like TLC Emergency Medical Services are benefiting from an extension of Medicare payments that otherwise would have expired at the end of 2012.
A one-year extension to rural ambulance providers totaling $8 million, means that providers like TLC, Marathon Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Smith Ambulance Service in DeRuyter now have a little more money to fund things like new vehicles, more personnel and upgraded equipment.
TLC spokeswoman Trish Hansen said Monday that the extension of funding applies to services in rural areas like Cortland County.
The fiscal deal that lawmakers arrived at in December extends a 3 percent addition to the standard Medicare rate reimbursed to ambulance services through the federal government
The extra 3 percent is extended through the end of the year, an extension that Hansen went to Washington, D.C., last month to lobby for. It is the fifth consecutive one-year extension, she said.
Hansen said 3 percent might not seem like a large number but it adds up considering the fact that TLC serves approximately 7,000 Medicare clients annually.
The extra money helps fund things like a new ambulance the company bought a few months back, a new building on Route 11 in Cortlandville that the service plans to move into this year and keeping the service up to state and regional standards.
TLC is also able to hire additional staff because of the fiscal relief, Hansen said. The service just hired two paramedics and Hansen said people are always needed.
Hansen said the new building will provide needed extra space.
“If we lost the extension, it would have significantly set us back on the work we’ve done on the building,” Hansen said.
Without the extra money, the funds would have to be made up elsewhere, she said.
TLC is committed to patient care so that would be the last area to suffer, she said, but the service would not be able to do as much as it can.
John Tillotson, captain for Marathon Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said that the extension gives the ambulance service more freedom with budgeting.
Tillotson said that given the demographics of Cortland County, the emergency medical services deal with a high percentage of uninsured clients who bill Medicare for services.
“Like everybody else, any reduction means that we are still being asked to provide the same level of service, the same degree of health care to patients, and doing it with less and less reimbursement for Medicare,” Tillotson said.
He said this would result in offsetting costs elsewhere and budgeting accordingly.
Cuts would have to be made, he said.
For example, the replacement schedule of ambulances might have to be extended a few years and fewer expensive machines like cardiac monitors would be replaced, he said.
“It would mean there would be more strategic planning for long-term equipment,” Tillotson said.
In addition, since the organization contracts with towns to offset the cost of capital expenses, it would possibly have to increase a contract fee. Staff might suffer from different pay scales and reorganized health insurance rates, as well, he said.
It is unclear what happens next year when the extension is set to expire.
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