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Upstate N.Y. Ambulance Service Wants to Start Billing

HOLLAND, N.Y. -- Members of the Holland Emergency Medical Service tried to convince a skeptical Holland Town Board that third-party billing will work for the town.

Residents of Holland who need emergency medical care or transport now receive it free of charge, thanks to a crew of volunteer firefighters and ambulance personnel. However, at Thursday's board meeting, Joseph Gonter, president of Holland Emergency Medical Services, or HEMS, said those ranks are dwindling.

"There are less and less of us to answer that 2 a.m. call," Gonter said. "We need to grow."

When no one from the Holland service is available, a privately contracted service such as Rural/Metro Medical Services answers the call. Residents typically pay a co-pay for that service, and their insurance company is billed for the remainder.

Chuck Gordon, president of Professional Ambulance Billing, said that if Holland went to a third-party billing system, residents receiving care from HEMS would incur a co-pay, and the insurance company would then pay HEMS. Gordon estimated the annual revenue stream for HEMS could reach $85,000.

Scott Wander, an emergency medical responder, said HEMS would like to be an asset rather than a liability to the town and that third-party billing would allow it to be self-sustaining.

"Only the people who use the service will pay for it," Wander said. "The $38,000 a year in taxpayer dollars that the town now allocates to the ambulance department will go back to the town."

Supervisor Michael Kasprzyk seemed reluctant to embrace the idea. Councilwoman Karen Kline worried about residents who couldn't afford insurance, while Councilman Geoffrey Hack wondered how third-party billing would bolster the volunteer ranks. Gonter answered that, with a revenue stream, HEMS could offer incentives to its volunteer core.

The move to third-party billing has worked well in other communities, Gordon said, including Gowanda, which, in one year's time, was able to survive on billing alone.

Kasprzyk said he would follow up with officials from some of those towns and bring the third-party billing discussion to the board's next meeting.


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