EMS thinking of expanding billing

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Franklin’s Department of Emergency Services is considering expanding its billing practices to include incidents in which a person is treated on-site rather than transported by ambulance to a hospital. The matter was discussed during City Council’s meeting on Monday evening.

If the change were to be implemented, the city’s emergency services department would be able to bill a resident’s health insurance company for any on-site care provided, not to exceed $380. Currently, the city code only permits billing if a person is actually transported via ambulance. As such, a vote by council would be required before the department could implement the proposal.

The reason the department is investigating the possibility of making this change to its billing practices is because one of Virginia’s major health insurance carriers, Anthem/Blue Cross, recently announced it would start covering EMS claims in which care was provided but transport was refused, beginning in January 2018.

“What some of the insurance companies are doing is they’re realizing if we responded to that home and we treated that policy holder, it could be a diabetic patient that their sugar had gotten out of line, then there wouldn’t be a need for them to go to the ER,” Holt said. “Insurance companies are saying ‘You’re saving us money by not resulting in an ER bill.’”

He added that this type of call accounts for approximately 20 percent of the department’s call volume.

Those without insurance could either pay out of pocket or, if unable to afford the bill, not pay at all, as the department makes no effort to collect on delinquent bills. Holt assured council members that a person’s ability to pay would in no way impact the level of service that person would receive from the department.

He also discussed the department’s need to offer better salaries to its professional firefighters and EMS personnel, citing that over the past six months the department had lost four employees with a combined 30 years of experience. Three of the four took new EMS jobs with the city of Suffolk, which he said pays its entry-level EMTs more than Franklin pays its certified paramedics.

“That’s not the sole thing driving it [the billing change] but that would help us,” he said.

In other business, the council continued its discussion of a draft ordinance to address the city’s numerous derelict properties, but took no action on the matter. Donald Goodwin, the city’s director of community development, explained that the proposed ordinance would be a tool the city could use when it could not get compliance using existing legislation from property owners to restore buildings back to a usable condition and get them occupied.

“It’s not our wish in any way to go start razing properties,” said Mayor Frank Rabil.

City Manager R. Randy Martin agreed, saying that the city would, in fact, prefer owners renovate their properties, particularly if they were in a historic area and had character.

Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham suggested capping the real estate tax abatement offered in the ordinance to a percentage of the assessed value of the land, in order to avoid a situation where the city could potentially receive $0 in taxes were the land to stay vacant for the full seven-year abatement period. However, City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV cautioned that doing so would reduce the incentive for property owners to take advantage of the abatement.

The council expects to take action on the matter in December.