Riverhead Town Board approves ambulance billing for auto accidents

The Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps is planning to bill motor vehicle accident victims’ car insurance companies for ambulance services.

The Riverhead Town Board approved a new five-year contract on Tuesday with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, which, for the first time ever, allows the corps to bill insurance companies.

“Most of the accidents are by out-of-towners and not by taxpayers of the Town of Riverhead, yet we’re paying for them,” Councilman John Dunleavy said at Tuesday’s Town Board meeting. “Everyone that drives in New York State has to have car insurance, and that’s what will be billed.”

Data of non-resident motor vehicle accidents and details about how much the corps will charge per accident weren’t immediately available.

Mr. Dunleavy said he favors billing for all ambulance calls, but agreed to start with auto accidents first.

Some town officials have said the move can bring in as much as $650,000 in revenue per year for ambulance service, although others have estimated lower figures, as the amount would vary depending on the number of people involved in auto accidents.

Riverhead will become one of the few municipalities in Suffolk County to bill for ambulance service, including the villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, said Rob Stoessel, the executive director of Port Jefferson EMS service, which serves both villages.

The issue has been on the Town Board’s radar for several years, but not everyone was in favor of it initially, which is why the scope of the program was eventually narrowed to include only people involved in auto accidents.

Ron Rowe, a member of the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance board of directors, has confirmed that the corps has agreed to billing for ambulance services, a move some members were reluctant to in the past.

He said the corps still needs to hire a billing company, obtain computer hardware and billing software, as well as training in how to use the billing programs. In addition, he said the corps will also need an office and a secure location to store records, which the town has agreed to provide.

Councilman Jim Wooten, who worked on the ambulance contract negotiations, said he hopes the new billing system will be in place by September.

Both he and Mr. Dunleavy said that all of the money raised by the billing will go back into the corps and none will go into the town’s general fund.

“Of the money raised, 20 percent is earmarked for designated capital improvement funds for the ambulance service, and then there will be a percentage paid to whoever they hire to do the billing, which is about eight percent, and the rest goes into the ambulance district,” Mr. Wooten said. “None of it goes into the town general fund.”

He added that most town residents will see a reduction in their taxes as a result of lower ambulance district taxes.

The Riverhead ambulance district covers the entire town, except for locations within the Wading River Fire Department since it has its own ambulance service.

The 2015 tax rate for the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance district is $1.938 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is about $97 per year for someone with property assessed at $50,000. That’s equivalent to a market value of about $324,675, according to town records.

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