A plan to allow third-party insurance billing for Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance calls appears to have the support of the Southampton Town Board and most of the approximately 25 residents who attended a work session at Flanders Fire Department headquarters Aug. 11.
Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he will move forward with plans for a public hearing on the measure.
Ron Hintze, a longtime member of the FNVA board of directors, made essentially the same presentation he’s made in the past, but he said previous town boards never followed up on the issue.
The FNVA budget is about $587,000 and its volunteers answer about 1,200 calls per year, he said.
“It won’t offset our entire budget, but it will probably cut it in half,” Mr. Hintze said of third-party billing, under which the cost of an ambulance call would be billed to the patient’s insurance.
The FNVA’s territory covers large tracts of land that are not on the tax rolls, which has resulted in Flanders having the highest tax rate of the town’s four ambulance districts.
These lands include state, county and town parks; a school; the county jail, court and county center; and Suffolk Community College.
The college and county facilities, including three health clinics, also mean that many of the people who require the services of FNVA are not residents or taxpayers in the ambulance district, according to Mr. Hintze.
“About 40 to 50 percent of our calls are from non-residents” of the district, he said. Ongoing plans to revitalize Riverside will result in additional call volume for the ambulance service, he added.
“We are the second busiest ambulance in Southampton Town, after Hampton Bays, and we have the lowest budget,” Mr. Hintze said, comparing the town’s four ambulance districts, which also include Southampton and Westhampton Beach. Other areas in town receive ambulance service from their fire districts.
To date, none of the East End ambulance services use third-party billing, although Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance is in the process of establishing it. Countywide, only about three ambulance companies currently use it.
Mr. Schneiderman wasn’t aware that local ambulance service is, as he called it, “a free ride” and said he was expecting a bill resulting from a recent car accident in East Hampton he was involved in.
“I guess I won’t be getting that bill,” he said.
Councilwoman Christine Scalera said some people have expressed concern that billing insurance for ambulance calls may prompt some people not to call an ambulance when they should.
“It’s a proven fact in other areas that do this that if someone needs an ambulance, they’ll call,” Mr. Hintze said. What it will eliminate, he explained, is so-called “nuisance calls,” where someone calls an ambulance when they don’t really need one. State law says the ambulance must respond to these calls, he said.
“What happens with people who don’t have insurance?” Mr. Schneiderman asked.
“You can’t take blood from a stone,” Mr. Hintze said. “We absorb that cost.”
The FNVA did have third-party billing about 15 years ago, but was told by the Town Board at the time to stop, according to Mr. Hintze, who said the decision was “political.”
“I am going to move forward with a public hearing,” Mr. Schneiderman said, adding that he would like the hearing to be at a facility within the ambulance district. He said he’d also like to get information out to residents through a mailing or door-to-door campaign.
He then asked for a show of hands from the people in the room, most of whom were residents of the ambulance district, for their opinion on the proposal. Almost all of them raised their hands in support.
Photo caption: Ron Hintze, a member of Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance’s board of directors, shows a map of tax-exempt land in the district at last Thursday’s meeting. He said they had third-party billing about 15 years ago, but at the time was told by the Southampton Town Board to stop. (Credit: Tim Gannon)