Northborough fire chief recommends new ambulance billing fees

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Northborough – Fire Chief David Parenti appeared before the Board of Selectmen Jan. 27 to recommend new ambulance billing fees. His presentation was informational only as the decision to adopt the fees will take place at the board’s next meeting Monday, Feb. 10.

Parenti reported that fees have not increased since 2009.

“Roughly in town we are doing about 68 percent EMS calls,” he noted. “When you look at total cost of providing that EMS call you don’t look at just the ambulance, you don’t just look at the personnel.”

He added that they have to take into consideration the costs of the building, administration, fuel and heating.

The cost to run the EMS operation in FY2019 was $1,422,594 which is about $1,075 per call. The department responds to roughly 1,323 EMS calls per year.

He said that some people don’t have insurance or people are taking high deductibles on their insurance and often the ambulances aren’t getting paid.

“We are seeing some trends that are making us nervous,” Parenti noted. “One of the concerns is that people in town are already paying taxes for ambulance service…We thought a good policy to come up with would be a billing policy that would not balance bill Northborough residents.”

Balance billing refers to billing a patient for the balance of the costs of services not covered by the patient’s insurance provider.

“Some people pay it and some people ignore it and it amazes me that ones who can’t afford it are the ones that are paying $5 per month,” he remarked.

His proposed policy would only balance bill Northborough residents when the insurance company directly pays the patient. Often the patient will not then forward the payment to the town to cover the cost. However, the policy provides the provision of balance billing anyone they transport who lives out of town and, if necessary, employing a collection agency.

Rates would be increased to align more evenly with surrounding communities.

“Our current billing rate is incredibly low. Our current basic life support is $594,” he shared.

The new fee for basic life support would be charged at $1,398, advance life support at $1,660 and specialty care support at $2,402. This will bring an additional $240,000 in additional EMS revenues annually to the town.

Town Administrator John Coderre further explained that this is a complex issue and that the taxpayer’s in Northborough are subsidizing the shortfall.

Parenti explained that there had been legislation pending at the state level to standardize fees, but nothing has been successful in passing.