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Third-party billing for ambulance corps bringing is less money than originally planned

The third-party billing system implemented in 2018 to allow the Flanders, Northampton Volunteer Ambulance Corps to bill insurance companies for the cost of transporting patients has generated “a decent amount of revenue,” but not as much as expected, according to Chief Mark Dunleavy.

The ambulance chief spoke Tuesday evening at the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association meeting. Third-party billing was originally intended as a four-year pilot program to evaluate how it works.

“Currently it’s successful and generates a decent amount of revenue to offset the taxpayers for annual budget,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “It’s not exactly what anybody thought it was going to bring in.”

He said when the move to third-party billing was being considered, they were told it would bring in about $500,000 in revenue for the district. 

“It’s only bringing roughly $200,000 to $250,000 a year,” he said.

People who live in the Flanders, Northampton and Riverside areas already pay for ambulance services in their property taxes. Critics have argued that it’s double the cost by paying in the property tax and their insurance.

When the district prepared to begin the program, Ron Hintze, a longtime ambulance corps board member, told people at a forum that residents who receive a bill should not pay it and bring it to the ambulance corps.

Ambulance Chief Mark Dunleavy at Tuesday’s FRNCA meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Mr. Dunleavy, who has been chief for about seven years and is also the district manager, said he recalls those meetings, but he said district’s attorneys have said they “can’t pick and choose who we have to bill.”

He said under state law, and for insurance reasons, they have to send a bill to everyone who receives ambulance service.

If someone lives in Flanders, Riverside or Northampton gets a bill, they don’t have to pay it, even if they don’t have insurance, Mr. Dunleavy said. 

“The insurance company will either send you a check in the mail or you can give [the bill] to us,” Mr. Dunleavy said. 

The FNVA is actually owned by Southampton Town, with the day-to-day operations of the district handled by the FNVA. The town also owns the Hampton Bays, Southampton and Westhampton ambulance districts. 

Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said the Town Board approves the budget of these ambulance companies, but the ambulance companies run the day-to-day operations. He and Councilmen Tommy John Schiavoni and Rick Martell also attended the FRNCA meeting. 

Lisa Gould of Flanders said she was “hounded” by the billing company over payment for five months.

“I have a background in medical billing and I knew there was something wrong with this,” she said. “My husband, who has a chronic condition, essentially said to me, ‘the next time something happens to me, drive me to the hospital. I am not getting in an ambulance.’ ”

She said she believes many people who pay the bills will then think that they can’t afford to call an ambulance in the future.

“That’s what we don’t want,” Mr. Schneiderman said. 

Sandy Adams of Riverside said one woman she knows didn’t get her $200 refund back for over two years.

One of the questions asked at the meeting related to the number of volunteers in the ambulance corps compared to the number of paid employees.

Mr. Dunleavy said they are staffed with a paramedic 24/7, and each ambulance has someone trained in advanced life support provide from midnight to 6 p.m.

The ambulance corps has 18 paid employees and 62 volunteers. It also uses per diem employees when needed, Mr. Dunleavy said. 

The cost of paramedics and EMTs are “astronomical,” he said.

“A paramedic is a college course, it’s not like you just go out one day and decide you’re going to be a paramedic,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “It takes at least 2 1/2, maybe three years of schooling. And the price range for paramedics ranges from anywhere from $22 an hour to upwards of $30 per hour. An EMT is roughly in the $20 per hour range.” 

Mr. Dunleavy said many ambulance companies are increasing the number of paid employees and that it is often difficult to keep highly trained ambulance employees from moving to other ambulance units that pay more.

The plan presented to the community when the third-party billing began noted a public vote would be held at the end of the four-year pilot program. There was no mention of a public vote at Tuesday’s meeting.