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Senator Schumer Touts Bill that Would Boost Medicare Reimbursement

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing legislation to aid private ambulance companies that are being short-changed by Medicare reimbursements.

Medicare penny-pinching is costing Island ambulance firms about $400,000 a year because costs are running about 6 percent higher than reimbursement rates, the New York Democrat said.

Every time an ambulance goes out, they are actually losing money, Schumer said outside Richmond County Ambulance headquarters in Port Richmond, where he was joined by borough lawmakers.

Schumer said the shortfall means that some ambulance companies can t afford to install state-of-the-art, life-saving technology like GPS systems and defibrillators.

These machines are costly and if they re losing money, how are they going to pay for them? he said. If we don t fix this, our ambulances are going to have greater and greater trouble.

Schumer s legislation, the Medicare Ambulance Payment Extension Act, would increase rates by 5 percent.

Congress reset reimbursement rates in 2003, but that legislation is set to expire at the end of this year.

Schumer said his bill is currently being hashed out in the Senate Finance Committee, on which he sits. Lawmakers have agreed that an increase was necessary, but were negotiating the exact rate, he said.

We re trying to get as close to the 5 percent as possible for our ambulances, Schumer said.

He added that while it wouldn t be enough to cover the entire 6 percent shortfall, the federal government should be doing more to help the firms.

If passed, the bill would mean an additional $630,000 a year for Island ambulance companies, Schumer said.

This bill is vitally important to all of us, said Jim McPartlon, president of the American Ambulance Association.

Joining Schumer yesterday were Assemblymen Michael Cusick (D-Mid-Island) and Matthew Titone (D-North Shore) and City Councilman Michael McMahon (D-North Shore).

It only makes sense that in life-threatening situations, these ambulances are as well-equipped as possible and not short-changed by Medicare or Medicaid, said Titone.

Tom Wrobleski may be reached at wrobleski@siadvance.com Read his polit.bureau blog at http://www.silive.com/newslogs/politics.

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