Ambulance revenue will get a close look from county commissioners this spring.
The base rate charged by Douglas County Ambulance Service could be increased if county commissioners see an opportunity to recover some of the costs that taxpayers now are subsidizing.
During their meeting Monday, commissioners asked DCAS director Ted McFarlane to provide them with facts and figures about rates charged by other ambulance services and surcharges paid by hospitals in other counties.
McFarlane said the ambulance service will have revenues of about $700,000 this year while its expenses may be twice that. Taxpayers subsidize the difference.
``Basically, we're the taxi service delivering patients to the hospital. Under that picture, we lose before we ever get there,'' said Commissioner Jim Chappell.
DCAS' balance sheet has come under scrutiny in recent months as county officials have renewed discussion of the possibility of privatizing the ambulance service. Although it's unlikely that a private operator could be profitable enough to relieve the county of all financial responsibility, county officials see it as one possible way to reduce their subsidies.
Last June, the commission increased the base rate for ambulance service by 10 percent. The rate for an unscheduled emergency transport now is $275; a scheduled trip with full life support is $130. In addition, DCAS charges $4.25 per mile traveled.
McFarlane said those base rates probably ranked in the bottom one-fourth of all Kansas ambulance services.
The discussion evolved out of a routine agenda item in which commissioners voted to alter some add-on charges and restructure the stand-by rate, which applies to contingency service provided for such things as athletic events.
McFarlane requested the changes to conform to new guidelines mandated by Medicare, which pays about half of all DCAS fees.
He told commissioners that higher fees likely would be paid by other insurers and private patients because Medicare has a set formula for determining its maximum payment. That now is $267.
Commissioner Mark Buhler said he feared higher rates would place an unequal burden on non-Medicare patients, even if they have health insurance.
``The truth is that they make allowances on what they pay and then they send the spread bill, for the difference, to the customer,'' Buhler said.
``Insurance companies aren't going to start cutting checks just because it's $175 more,'' he said.