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Some NNY ambulance squads’ delayed payments create financial trouble

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North country ambulance squad officials are arguing that while their staffs quickly respond to medical emergencies, payments for service from insurance companies has become too slow-moving.

Some squads have waited upwards of 90 days or more to receive payment, while at the same time having to pay staff, order equipment and service vehicles. As a result, some squads are in dire financial straits.

The town of Watertown Ambulance, for example, is considering getting a line of credit to ensure its company bills and employees are paid.

“If you lose your job, you pinch your pennies,” said David C. Roof, ambulance squad president. “Hopefully it won’t affect our employees. It’s a tough industry.”

Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance plans may pay a portion, or all, of a bill, but when squads have to wait a few months for payment their ability to continue service is shaken, Mr. Roof said.

What insurance companies don’t cover, patients must pick up. Many patients do not pay that remaining balance.

At the Ogdensburg Volunteer Rescue Squad, Medicare and Medicaid recipients account for 56 percent of its calls. Director of Operations Kenneth J. Gardner said that their reimbursement rates, as well as that of private insurers, are down by 5 percent over the past two years. He sees a trend brought on by economic hard times.

“We have no control over what we get,” he said.

A trip to a Syracuse hospital costs the squad about $1,000. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement from that is $300, Mr. Gardner said.

Potsdam Rescue Squad feels the squeeze, too.

“Our reimbursements from Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers are most definitely declining,” said Karen Mousaw, the squad’s administrative assistant. “About 35 percent of our patients are insured through Medicare and 25 percent have Medicaid.”

She said the emergency care environment has dramatically changed throughout the last 58 years, “with a long road of regulations, unfunded mandates and minimum requirements ahead of every emergency service agency.”

“Potsdam Rescue has not been immune to these changes and their financial impact,” she said. “We rely on contracts with the towns and villages, donations, grants and fundraisers to help close the gap in order to continue providing care to those who need it.”

Although ambulance squad officials say donations from community members and proceeds from chicken barbecues and other fundraisers help defray operation costs, shrinking the payment delay time will be highly beneficial.

Staff writer Brian Kidwell contributed to this report.

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