Southampton Town Board members agreed informally last Thursday to schedule a public information meeting on a proposal to allow the Flanders Northampton Volunteer Ambulance to institute third-party billing to the insurance companies of patients who receive ambulance services.
Last week, Ron Hintze, a founding member of the FNVA, made essentially the same presentation to the Town Board that he has been making to civic groups and other organizations for the past few years.
The FNVA is one of four ambulance taxing districts in Southampton Town, for which the Town Board is officially commissioner. But the FNVA, which also covers Riverside, has a drastically smaller budget and higher tax rate than the other three districts — Hampton Bays, Southampton and Westhampton. According to Mr. Hintze, this is because close to 80 percent of land in the district is tax-exempt and the ambulance coverage area includes numerous county and state properties, which account for nearly half of FNVA’s service calls but generate little in taxes.
Because of this, it’s difficult for the corps to upgrade its equipment and facilities.
“We have no room for growth,” Mr. Hintze said. “We’re land rich and taxpayer poor.”
Of the four districts, he said, the FNVA answered the second-highest number of service calls —1,079 — only trailing Hampton Bays.
Mr. Hintze said the cost of ambulance transport is covered by most health insurance policies, so residents in the FNVA taxing district are actually paying twice for that service right now.
Since the county facilities are within district boundaries, many of the people who get into car accidents or require ambulance service aren’t residents of the FNVA taxing district. For property taxpayers who are within the district, the implementation of third-party billing should result in a lower ambulance tax rate, according to Mr. Hintze. At an average of about $600 per call, the FNVA could raise more than half its current budget, he said.
Councilwoman Christine Scalera expressed concern that third-party billing could deter some people from calling an ambulance. Mr. Hintze said he’s done a lot of research on that issue.
“If somebody needs the ambulance, they are calling for the ambulance,” he said, adding that he believes calls that might not warrant an ambulance will be reduced.
“Once we’re dispatched, we can’t refuse transportation. We can’t try and talk them out of it,” he said.
And what about people with no insurance?
“If they have no insurance, we’re not going to bill them,” Mr. Hintze said. “You can’t get blood from a stone.”
In 1998, the FNVA did third-party billing for a little over a year, until a Flanders resident complained about it at a Town Board meeting. At the time, board members they were unaware the practice was taking place.
The corps discontinued third-party billing two weeks later, but said they raised about $50,000 in doing so.
While some ambulance corps in western Suffolk County have third-party billing, none on the East End do, although Riverhead is in the process of implementing it. Riverhead’s plan is to bill only for car accidents, which would be covered by auto insurance.
Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said there are some legal issues the board wants answers on, such as what to do when someone has no insurance, before they hold a community meeting on the issue. No date has been set for such a forum, but officials have agreed to hold it at the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders.
File photo credit: Barbaraellen Koch