The Town of Derry will take another look at what and how it charges for ambulance services
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Chuck Hemeon spoke at the July 19 Town Council meeting along with Fire Chief Michael Gagnon to discuss changes to the town’s fee structure.
Hemeon said that Derry’s “payer mix” for the service includes Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance and those who have no insurance. Compared to neighboring communities, Derry is at the bottom of the billing rate, he said.
Hemeon said the service is funded both by a budget raised by taxation and user fees. While only 6 to 8 percent of Derry’s residents use the service, a frequent response to being billed is, “Why? We pay taxes.”
The tax money assures that “we have the equipment and we’re ready to respond,” Hemeon said, adding that every community in New Hampshire has a surcharge for the service except for one tiny town up north.
Hemeon said he is proposing a 12 percent increase in the fee for ambulance service.
This would not affect Medicare or Medicaid recipients, whose fee is set by law. It would affect “those who have health insurance and those who have no insurance,” Hemeon said. Those who have no insurance may put their cause before the town’s Hardship Committee, heard by a panel, and have their fee lowered or waived.
“Some communities charge three times more than we’re charging,” Hemeon observed.
The town currently separates any procedures done on the trip from the transportation costs, and Hemeon is also proposing that Derry “bundle” the fees.
“I recommend billing for a flat fee,” he said.
Council Chair Brian Chirichiello asked, “When did we last raise the rates?” and Gagnon said that occurred in April 2012.
Councilor Charles Foote asked about the reimbursement rate. Hemeon said in Derry it’s 80 to 82 percent, while the average New Hampshire community sees a 40 to 50 percent reimbursement rate for services.
Councilor Jim Morgan asked if the town charges the same to Chester and Auburn, the towns it contracts with for ambulance services.
“It is always the same billing structure,” Gagnon said. “It’s a more reliable system.”
Morgan observed that Chester and Auburn cost the town more because of gas, time and wear-and-tear on equipment, and asked why Derry didn’t charge more.
Hemeon said the fees were kept consistent because of Medicaid and Medicare, but he added that each community pays an additional $78,000 for the services. A 5 percent per year increment is included in their contracts, he said.
A public hearing on the proposal will be held in the Aug. 16 Council meeting.