CFD, CARS to Propose Plan to Implement Ambulance Billing

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CARS ambulance CARS ambulance
CARS ambulance CARS ambulance
CARS ambulance housed at the Charlottesville Fire Department's station on Fontaine Avenue CARS ambulance housed at the Charlottesville Fire Department's station on Fontaine Avenue
Chief Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville Fire Department Chief Andrew Baxter, Charlottesville Fire Department
Virginia Leavell, CARS president Virginia Leavell, CARS president

An ambulance ride to the hospital could soon cost people in the city of Charlottesville.

The Charlottesville Fire Department and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad, or CARS, are rolling out a proposal to bill for medical services. It would be the first time in the nearly 60 years of CARS history that the squad would charge for care.

In 2014, Charlottesville City Council approved billing for ambulance service, but never set up the fees. By this fall, that could change.

CARS and the Charlottesville Fire Department are proposing a cost recovery program for emergency medical services in the city.

“With the costs rising in terms of all aspects of healthcare, including running ambulances, it's time to take that step we feel to generate some consistent revenue,” said Chief Andrew Baxter with the Charlottesville Fire Department. 

The expense of running CARS, an all volunteer rescue squad which responds to nearly 5,000 patient transports a year,  is getting to be too much for the donation-driven nonprofit. 

“We would not be able to sustain a level of care without engaging in this cost recovery program,” explained CARS President Virginia Leavell.

The city and CARS would charge insurance, Medicaid, or Medicare between $500 $850 dollars for an ambulance ride. People who live out of town would have to pay for what their insurance won’t cover, with waivers for people who cannot afford it.

“It will not affect the speed of response to your call, the quality of care that you receive, or any inconvenience during the course of us providing you care,” Leavell said.

People who live in the city of Charlottesville would never get a bill. Going this route is a change for CARS, which opted out of Albemarle County’s revenue recovery plan a few years back.

“I think that our increased comfort comes partially from the residency program in which anyone who is a taxpayer in the locality will not receive a bill,” said Leavell.

Rescue responders promise money will never get in the way of providing professional medical care.

“We would never turn anybody away. We're always going to be there 24/7, 365 to answer 911 calls for services,” Baxter explained.

The goal is to create an EMS system in the city that combines both career medics and volunteers.

A Charlottesville City Council public hearing on cost recovery is scheduled for Monday, July 17.

The Charlottesville Department and Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad will present their plans to Charlottesville City Council at their meeting on Monday, June 19.

CARS says it is also in talks with Albemarle County to start billing for services there.

City of Charlottesville Press Release:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA -  Charlottesville Fire Chief Andrew Baxter and Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad (CARS) President Gin Leavell will present plans to implement ambulance billing in the City to City Council at their June 19, 2017 City Council meeting (7:00 pm in City Council Chambers).

In addition, a public hearing will be held on at the July 17 City Council meeting, at which time the public will be able to provide their input and ask questions about this proposal.

Revenue from the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) cost recovery program will provide financial stability for the current City-CARS combination volunteer-career EMS system in the City. The program is structured as an insurance-only billing program with revenue collected from Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance. City residents will not receive a bill. For non-City residents, a compassionate billing program will ensure that no outstanding balances will be referred to a collection agency.

No one will ever be denied service based on their ability to pay or any outstanding bills. ALWAYS call 911 in the event of an emergency; emergency services will ALWAYS be ready to answer your call 24/7/365.

Ambulance billing is a common approach used by many communities to partially offset the rising costs of providing emergency medical services. The proposed fee schedule mirrors the EMS cost recovery program that has been in place in Albemarle County for several years. Nearly 80% of Virginia residents live in localities that bill for ambulance transport and 37 of 38 of Virginia's independent cities have some form of ambulance billing.