CLEARWATER - The cost of an ambulance ride will increase come July 1.
County commissioners unanimously approved on Tuesday a recommendation that ambulance fees be increased 10.15 percent.
The increase is estimated to bring in an additional $1.4 million in revenue that will be used to help offset an estimated $13.6 million shortfall in EMS funds for the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Basic service for Sunstar emergency transport currently costs $473.73 to $562.96 per patient. When the increase goes into effect, the cost will range from $521.81 to $620.10.
Also going up will be critical care transport from $809.41 per patient to $891.57, and other Sunstar charges.
County Administrator Bob LaSala said the rate increases will bring Pinellas' ambulance costs into line with Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Polk and Sarasota counties. Plus, he said, rates have not been raised since 2008.
About 30 percent of the payments for ambulance rides, he said, come from insurance. The remainder comes from Medicaid, Medicare and out-of-pocket expenses by those who use the service.
LaSala's suggestion to raise fees came last month as commissioners got their first look at the dismal news facing them regarding EMS expenses.
Total EMS expenditures for next year have been estimated to be about $87.6 million , which includes about $39.6 million to the 18 fire departments that provide first-response service; $35.7 million to Paramedics Plus, the private company the county contracts with for ambulance service; and $12.3 million for other costs, including personnel, operating and capital expenditures.
LaSala has said he has found himself hamstrung by state law in trying to hold down costs when it comes to giving money to the 18 cities and fire districts that provide EMS service. The law requires that the county pay the actual expenses incurred by those groups in providing firefighter/paramedics and other equipment.
Early on, almost all of the 18 had asked for more money in the coming year. Much of that was for increases in salaries, and benefits such as health insurance and pension costs.
But county commissioners said they do not want to raise the property tax rate to pay for those increases. LaSala has said he has some ideas for trying to hold the line and plans to meet with city managers and others to discuss possible solutions to the financial difficulties in the coming weeks.
Reach Anne Lindberg at email@example.com or (727) 893-8450.