Rural Metro wants to raise fees 20 percent.
by Jonathan Copsey
February 11, 2011
MILTON – The cost to have a life-saving ambulance come your way is about to go higher. The Milton Council met last week with a representative of the city's ambulance provider, who asked to raise patient fees by 20 percent.
Reg James, the division general manager for Rural Metro Ambulance, the company that provides emergency services to all the cities in North Fulton, plead his case that the current contract is unsustainable for his company, which has seen costs skyrocket in recent years while income has dropped off.
"The system is working as designed, and we're proud of that," said James of the level of service given to Milton and her sister cities, adding that service has been consistently good in the two years since the deal was signed.
Fire Chief Robert Edgars noted the partnership "works wonderfully."
North Fulton's cities banded together to create a partnership with Rural Metro in 2009, each shouldering some of the costs of the contract. Previously, Fulton County had provided the contract.
"The North Fulton region came together to tackle the problem regionally, so we could say when you are in North Fulton, you get better care." said Chris Lagerbloom, Milton's city manager.
According to James, Rural Metro has two expenditures – payroll and vehicle maintenance – and several income sources – Medicare, Medicaid, commercial insurance and private pay (no insurance).
Payroll and healthcare costs have risen about 20 percent in the last year alone. The ambulances purchased in 2008 are starting to show signs of wear from constant use, and maintenance has skyrocketed 115 percent. Fuel costs have also gone up.
At the same time, the collection rate for payment has gone down 9 percent, along with a shifting makeup of who is paying for the ride to the hospital. There has been an 11 percent increase in private pay and a decrease in the amount paid by Medicare and Medicaid.
With the proposed 20 percent increase in cost, Milton residents who needed the ambulance would see their fees rise from $635 to $762. Insurance companies would shoulder much of those costs.
"This is the least disruptive and simplest way," James said, pointing out that even with the increase in fees, the costs are still below those of his competitors.