Ambulance trip could soon cost more

November 30, 2009 5:36:29 PM PST
Getting help during an emergency situation could soon cost a lot more money. Houston City Council is looking at more than doubling the fee for an ambulance ride. You may think it's a cost you will never have to worry about, but for a lot of people the possible extra fee is much more than they can afford. Marius Ivory works out at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray as part of his therapy following a stroke two and a half years ago.

"I was unconscious," Ivory recalled. "I was in and out."

An ambulance ride to the hospital saved his life and he thinks a proposal to raise ambulance fees from a base rate of $415 to $800 a ride, and raise the per mile rate from $7.50 to $16 is wrong.

"It's mainly the elderly people and they cannot afford to pay," Ivory said.

Maryann Pegelow volunteers at the center. Her epilepsy has sent her to the hospital in an ambulance several times since 1991.

She said, "The majority of the people here, including myself, are on a fixed income."

That's exactly why drastic fee hikes worry at-large Houston City Council Member Jolanda Jones.

"Broke people can't pay any increase," Jones said. "I think there are a lot of people in the city who don't understand how incredibly hard it is financially."

But HFD Assistant Fire Chief Karen DuPont says the city spends more than $320 million a year on ambulance services and recoups only $29 million. She says a fee increase would put more money back in city coffers to pay for more city services.

"For an ambulance to roll out the door on a 911 call is just over $2,100," DuPont explained. "The average cost recovery per run is just over $200."

The base ambulance fee has not changed since 2002. The per mile rate has been the same since 1993. But the proposal may end up on the December 9 city council agenda, without a public hearing.

"It was said that they didn't want to scare anybody," Jones said. "Well, we shouldn't be passing anything that scares people."

Assistant Chief DuPont wanted to make it clear that people on Medicaid and Medicare won't pay extra, because the government has set its rates. And she says no one will be denied ambulance transport or services because they can't pay.


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