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EMS billing rates to rise

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By John Barnhart

The Bedford County Board of Supervisors, during its meeting Monday, authorized an increase in reimbursement rates for emergency medical service transports.

    The county bills Medicare, Medicaid and third party insurance companies when an ambulance transports someone. The revenue from this is used to reimburse the rescue squads and enhance the county’s EMS system, according to Jack   Jones,   the  county’s chief of fire and rescue.
    “Individual residents will not be billed,” Jones wrote in a letter to the supervisors. “Additionally, let me stress — no one will be denied service.”
    The rate for advanced life support non-emergency rises from $279.79 to $301.71. The advanced life support emergency rate increases from $443 to $477.70. Basic life support for a non-emergency trip goes from $233.16 to $251.42. Basic life support for an emergency trip will increase from $373.05 to $402.28. The charge for advanced life support level II increases from $641.19 to $691.41 and the urban mileage rate goes up from $7.81 to $8.43.
    The new rates, according to Jones, represent 125 percent of the Medicaid fee schedule. The supervisor’s fire and rescue committee had already joined county staff in recommending the new rates to the entire board on Aug. 23.
    According to Jones, the new rates still leave Bedford County’s charges below the rates that surrounding localities have for many of these services. Botetourt County, for example, charges $1,106.26 for advanced life support level II. Lynchburg, however, charges $575 for this.
    Jones said that the department’s reason for asking more from Medicare than it expects to be paid allows the department to take maximum advantage of Medicare billing.
    District 6 Supervisor Annie Pollard said that she understood that the money goes back to support the county’s EMS system, but she still had concerns.
    “My problem with all this is, where does this all stop?” she said.
    Pollard abstained from the vote to approve the new rates. All others voted in favor.
    District 7 Supervisor Gary Lowry, who serves on the fire and rescue committee, complimented Jones for the work he’s done and Board Chairman Roger Cheek noted that the new rates still leave Bedford County below most other localities. District 1 Supervisor Dale Wheeler said that he had to call for an ambulance for his mother on Sunday and the ambulance got there in 20 minutes, impressing him with the response time on a Sunday by volunteers.
    The vote was preceded by a discussion of minutes taken at a July 22 work session. Pollard did not want to approve these minutes because she felt they contained excessive detail. District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington agreed with her.
    Others, however did not. Wheeler said that this was deliberately done so that county staff would have these details available and not have to rely on memory. The work session dealt with zoning.  District 4 Supervisor John Sharp agreed with Wheeler. He said that these details needed to be captured and passed to the planning commission. District 2 Supervisor Chuck Neudorfer also had no problem with the level of detail.
    Pollard and Arrington were the only supervisors to vote against approving the minutes.
    After the vote, Polllard said that she thought this set a precedent on the level of detail in work session minutes. Sharp and Cheek both disagreed.
    At the end of the meeting, Neudorfer brought up an item that had been recently distributed by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling’s office. This stated that an independent audit of the Virginia Department of Transportation revealed $1.45 billion in unspent transportation funds. Bolling stated that the Commonwealth will  award $800- to $900  million in highway construction and maintenance contracts before December 31, 2010.
    Neudorfer suggested that, in light of this,  Bedford County should ask for money for a bridge replacement in District 7 that had earlier been eliminated for lack of money. Pollard, on the other hand, suggested that more should be done about the county’s unpaved roads, which she said was the most critical need. She said that money has been moved from unpaved road projects in the past.
    Cheek suggested that the county needs to find out what will be available and what it can be used for before asking for anything specific. Assistant County Administrator Frank Rogers said that he will find out if some of this money can be sent to localities.