Commissioner Ron Lee would like to see Warren County EMS ambulance rates rise.
EMS director Brian Jennings said rates have not risen since 2002.
“I want to be the highest charged ambulance service in the state of Tennessee,” said Lee. “And I want to be the best one. The only way to do that is to raise rates. We have sat on our hineys for 10 years and let these costs go up and up and up and haven’t increased our rates. I can’t imagine any business, private business in the last 10 years, that hasn’t had some type of increase.”
Jennings said most of the fees the ambulance service can collect are set by the government.
“We are roughly 67 percent reliant on Medicare. There is another 15 to 18 percent that is TennCare or Medicaid. They pay on a fee schedule, not a penny more,” said Jennings.
Commissioner Charles Morgan disagreed with Lee. “I don’t agree with raising the rates at all. This is a county service. It is not a private business,” said Morgan.
Lee said, “If we don’t operate it as such to reimburse, then we are going to have to dip into the taxpayers money.”
Morgan said, “What’s the difference in a tax rate increase and an increase in a fee? We have a ton of people in this county who don’t have insurance. We have a ton of employees who don’t have insurance. Then, you are going to hit them harder when they need you the most. This would hit them even worse.”
“I see where you are coming from,” said Commissioner Teddy Boyd. “It is just like Erlanger flying a helicopter in here and landing and charging $15,000. Three years ago it was $10,000.”
Lee said, “We need to raise our rates. I don’t care what surrounding counties charge. I’m not buying their tires. I’m not paying their fuel. I know what ours is costing and we are not where we need to be.”
Jennings said, “You won’t make any more from Medicare or Medicaid. Those charges are set.”
Jennings said Warren County EMS charges a base rate of $500 plus $10 per mile, regardless of how much medication or attention a patient is given.
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Lee.
Jennings agreed. “No, it doesn’t. That’s a flaw in the system nationwide. I have to pay $100 every time I use a disposable bag with the AutoPulse machine. But Medicaid doesn’t care. They give you a flat rate, period.”
“If I was in the hospital, and I took an aspirin, it would cost me $5 or $6,” said Lee, not realizing hospitals charge over $200 for aspirin nowadays. “But yet you are doing the same service and transporting it and you are not getting it. That needs to be looked at.”
County Executive John Pelham said, “If the majority of patients use Medicare or Medicaid, they are going to pay us a flat rate. Another 12 to 15 percent is private insurance or private pay, and if we raise our rates, really the people we are impacting are the private citizens. But, Medicare and Medicaid is going to pay what they want to pay.”
Jennings said mileage rates are set by the state. “That’s why a Nashville transfer actually yields quite a bit because they give you $10 per mile. That is $860 we get guaranteed in mileage.
Lee proposed charging $12 per mile for gas.
The meeting ended without a vote being taken on raising any of the rates.
Commissioners on the county Safety Committee are Boyd, Sally Brock, Lee, Morgan and Les Trotman.