NAPLES DAILY NEWS


Collier's commission considers hike in ambulance, Med Flight fees

Monday, July 28, 2003

By LIZ FREEMAN, epfreeman@naplesnews.com


The view isn't so hot but the price tag has a bite.

Fees for medical transport to area hospitals by ambulance or Med Flight helicopter are slated to increase this fall if the Collier County Commission gives its approval Tuesday.

Every year, Collier County's Department of Emergency Medical Services takes part in a review of transport rates of ambulance systems around the state.

"All submit their rates and adjust accordingly," said Capt. Dan Bowman, spokesman for Collier's EMS. "We don't necessarily change our rates every year."

Medicare, the federal insurance for people 65 and older, determines the different levels of services. Medicare covers EMS transports and private insurance provides various levels of coverage, he said.

For the new fiscal year starting Oct. 1, all but two levels of ambulance and helicopter transport services are proposed to increase.

In contrast, EMS fees in Lee County for all levels of service will stay at this year's rates when the new year starts in October, said Paul Filla, EMS spokesman in Lee.

The most dramatic increase in Collier is for a Med Flight transport. The current rate is $3,407 and it would increase to $4,200. The rate is the same for air transport to a hospital in Collier or to the trauma center at Lee Memorial Hospital near downtown Fort Myers or elsewhere, Bowman said.

On top of that, the air mileage fee would increase to $65 a mile and there would be no cap on the mileage. Currently the rate is $49 a mile and is capped at 10 miles for in-county transports. When a patient is flown to an out-of-county hospital now, there's no cap on the mileage.

For ambulance services, a basic non-emergency transport is proposed to be $350 next year, a $50 increase from this year's $300 charge. This is the first increase in two years for this level of service. A non-emergency transport, for example, can be from one hospital to another or when someone can't drive.

A basic life-support emergency ambulance trip will be $375 come Oct. 1 under the proposed rates, also a $50 increase from this year's rate. It's the first increase for this level of transport in two years.

When a patient needs emergency transport where fewer than three medications are administered, the proposed rate next year is $475, up from $400 this year. But when three more medications are administered, the $550 charge now is proposed to stay the same next year.

The mileage fee for ground transport would go from the current $7 a mile to $9 and the 10-mile cap that's been in place for in-county service would be eliminated.

Doing away with the caps has become "the standard that's being used everywhere else," Bowman said.

The EMS department's proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 is $15.7 million, a large chunk of which is paid by ambulance fees. Bowman did not have readily available what percentage of the total budget comes from the fees and how much comes from the general fund.

Projections for next year are 19,100 transports to hospitals by ground ambulance and 388 air transports, he said.

In Lee, the rates across the board are considerably lower but the county is more urban. For instance, emergency ambulance transport with advanced life support of fewer than three medications is $350 now and is slated to stay at that amount next year, Filla said. But similar to what Collier is planning, the rural per-mile rate now is $9. A rural helicopter transport is $4,050 and a non-rural helicopter transport is $2,900, he said.