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Upstate N.Y. Agency Loses Bid to Go to Third-Party Billing

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- For several years, the group of volunteers known as Holland Emergency Medical Services has prepared to move to a third-party billing system that it says would bring in revenue and remove the group as a burden to taxpayers.

But after two years of lobbying the Town Board, whose approval HEMS needed, the answer it got this month was not what it wanted to hear.

"We're going to leave everything as it is," Supervisor Michael Kasprzyk said after the recent vote that ended HEMS' quest. "Changing things will present more problems than it's worth."

Joseph Gonter, president of HEMS, was both discouraged and perplexed by the decision.

"They say they don't want to be in the ambulance business, but when the town signs a contract with Waste Management, does that mean they're in the garbage business? I don't think so," Gonter said.

In December 2009, HEMS incorporated as a not-for-profit, the first move in an effort to steer the group toward a new business model, Gonter said.

That model would mean that HEMS, which answered about 170 calls last year, would begin charging for its services like Rural/Metro does, but at a lower rate. Customers would pay a co-pay to their insurance companies, and the insurance companies would pay HEMS the outstanding balance.

Currently, HEMS, which counts about 15 EMTs or paramedics in its ranks, operates solely on a $38,000 budget paid for through taxes to the fire district. Residents who require rescue or transport services from HEMS are charged nothing.

The rescue squad president said he is frustrated with the idea that some officials think the switch to third-party billing is not worth it. A professional ambulance-billing company had estimated HEMS could earn $85,000 annually.

Gonter pointed to Gowanda and Orchard Park as communities that have successfully turned their ambulance services around to self-sustaining entities.

Kasprzyk said Tuesday that the Town Board "agonized" over the issue.

"We didn't want to alienate residents and some of the firemen who didn't think this was a good idea," the supervisor said. He noted that rising co-pay costs and the number of uninsured residents in town also were deciding factors.



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