By Joe Beck -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Frederick County soon could join Warren and Shenandoah counties in charging for ambulances fees under a proposal working its way toward the board of supervisors.
County residents heard details of the plan Wednesday night during an informational meeting at the Star Tannery Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company.
Round Hill Fire Chief Chester Lauck led the 12 people in the audience through a Power Point presentation in which he repeatedly declared that county residents would pay nothing for ambulance service if the program -- dubbed "revenue recovery'' -- is approved.
Lauck said all the costs would be borne through Medicare, Medicaid or independent insurance companies. Fire and rescue companies would write off expenses left over from uninsured or underinsured patients they aided, Lauck said. Billing would be handled by a company contracted to send the paperwork to each patient's insurer.
No new taxes would be necessary and increases in insurance premiums would be "highly unlikely" as a result of the program, he said.
"The bottom line is that there would be no out-of-pocket expenses," Lauck told the audience, adding "all the money is in your insurance plan."
Lauck said the ambulance fees will help the county and volunteer fire departments cope with sharply rising costs for fire trucks and ambulances needed to replace a fleet of aging vehicles. He also cited other equipment, training classes and electricity, fuel and other daily operating items that could be paid for through the fees.
The ambulance fees could also allow for the hiring of up to six firefighters and paramedics, he said. More personnel means faster response times and better service for residents, Lauck added.
Lauck said projections for how much money could be obtained from government and private insurers is hard to estimate, but he cited Winchester's revenue recovery rate of 70 percent as one example.
The extra money would be divided evenly between county and volunteer companies, the only feature of the plan to draw an objection from a member of the audience.
Shawn Graber, who identified himself as a Star Tannery resident and 12-year veteran of firefighting and ambulance services elsewhere in Northern Virginia, called for the county to receive 80 percent of the money. Graber said the county should receive more money to allow for the hiring of more than six firefighters, a number he deemed woefully inadequate.
"We need people in the station, boots on the ground," Graber said.
He said data he had obtained from Frederick County showed average response times for Star Tannery of more than 14 minutes in 2010 and more than 15 minutes in 2011, both well above professional standards.
Graber said Star Tannery is the only fire and rescue company in the county without a career member on staff.
Lauck said little about Graber's criticism after the meeting.
"I have to be open to everyone's opinion," he said.
Kenny Monkman, EMS billing technician with Shenandoah County's Department of Fire and Rescue, said his department instituted a revenue recovery program in February that divides up ambulance fees according to mileage and whichever company sends an ambulance on a call. The money is further divided up based on the composition of the crew, he said.
For example, the county would receive all the money reserved for a crew if all the members are career paramedics, he said. A crew that combined volunteer and career paramedics would divide the money among the companies represented up to a maximum of three companies, he said.
Chief Richard E. Mabie of Warren County Fire and Rescue Services said all ambulance fee revenue is administered by his agency and distributed among the volunteer companies to pay for various goods and services as needed.
Additional informational meetings on Frederick County's proposal are planned for 7 p.m. Oct.1 at the Greenwood Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, 809 Greenwood Road and at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at the Gainesboro Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company, 221 Gainesboro Road.
Each of the county's fire and rescue companies will vote on the proposal in October, and results will be counted at their association meeting later in the month, Lauck said. The results will be sent to the Board of Supervisors who may vote on the plan around Jan. 1, Lauck said. If approved, the proposal could take effect by July 1, 2013, he said.