EMS costs on the rise

A $500,000 increase in the cost of emergency services throughout the town of Bethlehem is forcing providers to look at alternative sources of revenue to fund the program.

Judy Kehoe, town comptroller, reported to the town board at the Wednesday, Dec. 12, meeting that 2008 costs for the Delmar, Elsmere, Slingerlands Ambulance, Bethlehem Volunteer Ambulance, and Western Turnpike Ambulance Company the town's three main emergency service providers would increase from $1.27 million to $1.76 million.

The volunteer ambulance providers offer basic life support while paid paramedics through Albany County Sheriff's Department account for the town's advanced life support service.

"The increase is from their need to supplement volunteer staff with paid EMTs (emergency medical technicians)," said Kehoe.

As a result of the cost increase, Kehoe said these same volunteer ambulance companies will begin billing insurance companies for the emergency services they provide. This new revenue recovery program, being endorsed by town Supervisor Jack Cunningham, is expected to result in even greater savings in 2009 to local EMS providers.

"There should be a savings, and it should be significant," said Kehoe.

In January of each new year, the emergency service tax is a separate item levied on a homeowner's tax bill. Each homeowner is billed by one of the three town providers.

Those bills should remain fairly consistent, with much of the additional costs being passed on to insurance companies.

Delmar, Elsmere, Slingerlands Volunteer Ambulance service accounts for 68 percent of the total service to town residents. Bethlehem Volunteer Ambulance makes up 26 percent and Western Turnpike Ambulance the remaining 6 percent. The idea of billing third-party insurance companies for emergency services to residents is something Western Turnpike Ambulance has been doing successfully for a few years.

"Western Turnpike funds 95 percent of their operating budget through insurance billing," said Kehoe.

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