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Aug 17, 2016 11:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Ambulance Billing Changes Possible For Flanders, Riverside And Northampton

Aug 17, 2016 1:28 PM

Leaders of the Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance are reintroducing a plan that they say will reduce ambulance taxes for local residents with a third-party billing system—a previously introduced idea that never garnered the support of the Southampton Town Board.

Ronald Hintze, who sits on the ambulance company’s Board of Directors, presented three different proposals to Town Board members during their August 11 work session, held inside the Flanders Firehouse, suggesting ways his outfit could make better use of its operating budget and even cut ambulance taxes for residents. His first two proposals—merging the town’s four ambulance districts, so they would all have the same tax rate, and configuring all of the town’s advanced life support operations so they would operate under the town’s public safety division—did not appear to have the support of board members.

They said the first idea, which would merge the Flanders-Northampton, Westhampton War Memorial Ambulance, Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance and Southampton Volunteer Ambulance companies, would most likely raise taxes across the town, while the second idea would simply be too expensive.

But Mr. Hintze’s third suggestion—the one in which volunteers would be able to directly bill the insurance carriers of patients whenever they require an ambulance—caught the interest of board members, with Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman requesting that Mr. Hintze’s company submit an official proposal to Town Hall.

Under a third-party billing system, Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance officials would directly bill insurance carriers whenever they transport a patient to the hospital as most plans cover the cost of ambulance rides. Currently, the ambulance district does not bill anyone for the service, a practice that continues to tax the company that, this year, has only a $587,000 operating budget.

Company officials think they are leaving money on the table—namely, money that insurance firms should be reimbursing the ambulance company with. Under the plan, uninsured patients will not be billed by the ambulance company.

Mr. Hintze’s proposal calls for a four-year trial of third-party billing for his ambulance company, which covers all of Flanders, Riverside and Northampton, and responds to about 1,200 calls annually—or the second most calls in the municipality, trailing only Hampton Bays. Though both companies cover about 21 square miles, the Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance Corps had almost a $1.12 million budget last year. Ambulance company taxes are collected by the town’s tax receiver and distributed annually to the different districts.

Most of the funding earmarked for his outfit, Mr. Hintze noted, is spent on advanced life support response, leaving little money for facility upgrades on their 1,800-square-foot headquarters in Flanders or to replace outdated ambulances, the oldest of which dates back to 2002.

“We’re a unique district because we have so much park land. We have a very small tax base,” Mr. Hintze said. “We pay more for EMS services than any other district. It’s almost double. There’s really no room to grow.”

The town expects to collect $499,700 from Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance district taxpayers for the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Noting that his outfit has already responded to more than 600 calls this year—a number that is expected to climb if ongoing revitalization efforts designed to attract more residents to Riverside continue to move forward—Mr. Hintze said his volunteers are only going to be relied on more down the road.

Though he wants to wait for the official proposal, Mr. Schneiderman said he is open to the suggestion of introducing third-party billing. He agreed that by directly billing insurance companies, which already charge their patients for ambulance services, the company could trim those costs and earmark more of its funding for much-needed upgrades.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Mr. Hintze said about his company’s operating budget. “[Residents] are going to stop calling us for the crap calls. It’s proven throughout the nation, if people need an ambulance, they are calling for an ambulance. What it will cut down on is nuisance calls.”

Representatives of the ambulance company are expected to draft an official proposal soon and present it to the town in the coming weeks.

In the fall of 2011, both the Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance and the Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance Corps unsuccessfully petitioned the Town Board to implement a third-party billing system in the town.

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Kudos to our ambulance Board of Directors for investigating ways to increase their budget WITHOUT raising taxes. I hope the town board seriously considers their proposal.
By SqueakyWheel (28), Flanders, New York on Aug 19, 16 11:52 AM
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