Schenectady County

Legislation proposed to avert harm to ambulance providers

Keeping an ambulance and its equipment up-to-date can be an expensive endeavor.

Keeping an ambulance and its equipment up-to-date can be an expensive endeavor.

It’s one Dave Cote deals with day in and day out with the Rotterdam Emergency Medical Services Inc. The not-for-profit ambulance company’s operations manager is often faced with making difficult choices when it comes to deciding what equipment needs to be modernized.

“We try to replace equipment every three to five years, but it doesn’t necessarily happen for financial reasons,” he said, Monday.

And when ambulance companies don’t receive the proper rate of reimbursements from Medicare, keeping up with equipment demand can be even more of a struggle. In 2007, the federal Government Accountability Office produced a report that suggested ambulance providers were being drastically underpaid by Medicare, thereby hampering their ability to outfit their rigs with state-of-the-art medical equipment.

Federal legislation in 2008 provided a temporary 6 percent increase in these payments. But this level of reimbursement will expire by years’ end if new legislation isn’t passed, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Monday during a news conference at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany.

Schumer is proposing legislation that will ensure these Medicare payments are kept at their current level over the next decade.

He said the reimbursements could bring up to $10.3 million to Capital Region ambulance companies through the duration of his legislation. In Schenectady County alone, the increase would bring an additional $2.1 million over 10 years, according to his estimates.

Roughly 40 percent of the patients who use ambulances are covered by Medicare, meaning the reimbursements are a critical component of their annual budgets. Schumer said the Medical Modernization Act of 2003 changed the formula for Medicare payments to ambulance services, prompting companies on tight budgets to cut back on their equipment purchases.

“Across the Capital Region, residents deserve top-notch ambulance service,” he said.

James McPartlon, the vice president of the for-profit Mohawk Ambulance Service, lauded Schumer’s effort. He said his company would have difficulties keeping its fleet modern without the increase the senator is seeking.

“It is very expensive to train our employees and equip our ambulances with cutting-edge medical technologies,” he said. “If Medicare underpays ambulance providers, there will be a drastic negative long-term effect on emergency care.”

Cote was also pleased to learn about the proposed legislation. He said new ambulances can sometimes cost in excess of $120,000, which is an almost insurmountable amount to cover given the tight budget situation facing REMS, a company that is trying to work its way out of severe debt.

“It totally impacts us,” he said of the reimbursements. “If Medicare provides us more funding on a claim, it would be reinvested in the company.”

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