Centralize ambulance billing


THE RELUCTANCE of Reese volunteer firemen to charge for ambulance calls is understandable, but it creates an intolerable rift in the county emergency services system.

Refusal of the county firemen's association to give Reese its share of county funds to maintain emergency ambulance service is also intolerable -- and dangerous.

The resolution is apparent: centralized, standard-rate billing by the county for emergency ambulance runs and allocation of county funds directly to each volunteer company, not through the firemen's association.

After years of debate and escalating numbers of calls, Carroll fire companies agreed a year ago to bill for ambulance runs. Reese first refused, claiming it was an unpaid volunteer service, then charged a nominal $5; other units charge a minimum $200. The firemen's group withheld Reese's county funds. Reese plans to sue.

That is a waste of valuable fire company resources and further strains working relationships that are critical to an all-volunteer county fire and ambulance service.

And there's a real danger if needy residents shop for emergency services on the basis of which company charges less.

Volunteer fire companies provide essential life-saving services for the county. The 13 emergency medical units answer more than 11,000 calls a year. They save taxpayers millions of dollars.

But the county contributes $4.9 million a year, more than 85 percent of their budgets. It must assure reliable, equitable service.

The important understanding is that insurance companies or Medicare will pay most of the ambulance bill and that no one will be denied service.

Disputes over charges, collection agencies and county funds hurt the volunteers and the public. Central county billing and collection may not produce more revenue. But it will restore the peace.

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