David C. Roof worries about a continuing problem the town of Watertowns ambulance service has collecting bills from its users with private health insurance.
With a little more than five months remaining in 2012, the amount in unpaid bills has already exceeded all of last years, said Mr. Roof, the ambulance squads president. For the first six months of the year, the ambulance service has accumulated $25,300 in unpaid bills, up from $24,934 for all of 2011, he said.
The nonprofit ambulance squad has provided service to town residents since branching off from the Fire Department in 2008.
Mr. Roof believes the revenue problem could put the ambulance service in a financial bind if the trend continues, especially with whats happening nationally with escalating costs in health insurance. Mr. Roof blamed the situation on an increasing number of people unable to afford health coverage who are faced with higher deductibles or those who just decided they wont get health insurance.
The only way they can afford health insurance is to take less coverage, he said.
In the past, 80 percent of the fee was paid by insurance companies, but people are now required to pay more because their deductibles are a lot higher, he said. The ambulance service then has to absorb the loss in revenue if it cannot recoup the uncollected payments.
So Mr. Roof has asked the Town Council to see if the town can come to the rescue. He has asked board members to beef up the language in the contract with the town, which will allow the ambulance service to go after people who have not paid. At this point, Mr. Roof doubts the ambulance service can seek legal recourse for uncollected user fees.
Town Councilman David W. Prosser, a member of a three-member ad-hoc committee studying the financial situation, urged his colleagues to look at the wording in the contract to find a billing procedure that could seek reimbursement from those users.
I see theres a need to do it, said Town Supervisor Joel R. Bartlett.
Under a three-year contract that expires in December 2014, the town is paying the ambulance squad $150,000 per year for the service. The town also provided a controversial $50,000 grant to help get the ambulance service off the ground.
But Town Councilman Edward Smith, who at times has been critical of the ambulance squad, said he was under the impression the $150,000 annual payment funds all the service costs for residents. He questioned why town residents are billed at all.
For clarification, theyre not asking for more money from the town, just a way to recover those uncollected fees, Mr. Bartlett said.
No, but theyre asking for more money from town residents, Mr. Smith said, adding he hopes to meet with ambulance service officials to get a better explanation of whats going on.
Providing service around the clock 365 days a year, the squad consists of 14 paid and 17 volunteer staff members and is housed at a Fire Department substation on Route 3. Last year, it had a $316,000 annual budget that comes from billing users, fund-raising campaigns and donations. Since 2008, the ambulance service has gone on about 5,000 calls.