Fire companies may start billing insurers Volunteer groups seek funds for ambulance services they provide; Delegates could vote July 6; Commissioners OK hiring liaison for county, firefighters


The county's volunteer fire companies will begin billing insurers for emergency services under guidelines established by Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association.

Association leaders and the commissioners met yesterday to hammer out the details of the ambulance billing agreement, which delegates from the 14 area companies will review Monday. A final vote could come at the association's July 6 meeting, and countywide billing could begin before summer's end.

"We will go along with the billing as long as each company does its own," said Bob Alexander, association president. "They want to handle the work themselves."

The County Commissioners also voted yesterday to establish a paid liaison position between the association and the county.

"We don't want this to fall through," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Let's give it a try and see how it works."

A few association members voiced fears that once billing begins, support will dwindle for their fund-raising efforts -- the mainstay of volunteer companies.

"We have to educate the public that we are not billing individuals and that nothing is coming out of their pockets," said John Korman, second vice president of the firefighters association. "We are just trying to get the dollars that are available to us out there."

Revenues could also come from other counties and from southern Pennsylvania, areas where Carroll companies often provide emergency support.

"We all want assurances that emergency services coverage is there," said Art Frotton, president of the Carroll County Ambulance Association.

"If we bill, we bill everyone who is transported to a hospital."

Four companies -- Westminster, Pleasant Valley, Union Bridge and Winfield -- began billing insurers last year and have contracts with billing companies. Alexander said he hoped that the fire companies could work out an arrangement for services with the same billing company.

While no exact timetable is established, the county would like the billing to coincide with the new fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The bills would go to insurers. Uninsured residents will be billed once and not dunned, Frotton said.

The county funds 85 percent of each company's operating costs and has agreed to increase that amount to 90 percent for fiscal 1999. Money is also budgeted for a liaison and salary increases for emergency technicians.

The budget traditionally works out to about $40,000 per company for emergency services. Under the county's proposal, each company would keep money recouped from insurers for the cost of transporting patients to the hospital. The county would reimburse those companies that fall short of $40,000.

Steven D. Powell, county director of the department of management and budget, said he would expect that a few companies would not reach the $40,000 mark.

"If you get $30,000 and we owe you $40,000, we will give you the remaining $10,000," Powell said.

Robert A. "Max" Bair, the commissioners' chief of staff, urged fire companies to structure billing "to costs for putting an ambulance on the street. That will help you recoup all your costs."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates reiterated the promise and said the county has little choice but to bill.

"It is great that the fire companies are taking over the billing," Yates said. "If a company fails, we will pick it up. Otherwise, we will have to go to paid fire departments."

Each company submits a quarterly report of its emergency calls to the county.

Under the fee program, money will be disbursed quarterly, based on ambulance services, with adjustments made in the last quarter, Powell said.

"After about a year, we can gauge where this program is going," Powell said.

The agreement could have been forged months ago, if a liaison existed, "someone with a fire-related background looking out for the fire people," said Oscar Baker, a longtime volunteer with the Mount Airy company.

"A liaison could reiterate the feelings of the association to the county and stay on top of things," Baker said.

Baker assured the commissioners that the "position will more than take care of itself. The liaison could probably find grant money to pay his salary."

The commissioners agreed to fund the position, at about $30,000 annually, and provide a vehicle and office space.

"We just had a special election that could have bought four years of this liaison," said Yates, in a reference to the more than $100,000 spent on the recent charter election.

Pub Date: 5/27/98

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