Officials may eye subsidies for service | Local News

When the city and county begin negotiating an ambulance services contract later this year, taxpayer dollars might be a necessary incentive to interest bidders and to ensure quality health care in times of need, many officials seem to agree.

Until now, Owensboro and Daviess County have been able to avoid subsidizing regional ambulance companies. The joint Revised Emergency Medical Service and Ambulance Agreement relies on exclusivity alone to attract interest.

Every four years, when the two legislative bodies make an agreement with an ambulance company, the contract stipulates that all medical 911-dispatch calls will be forwarded to that contractor alone. The company, Louisville-based Yellow Enterprise System Inc. — better known as Yellow Ambulance — is free to bill customers at an approved rate without any competition, and, in return, Yellow Ambulance promises a minimum level of pre-hospital care.

The contracts with Yellow Ambulance have operated with relatively few disputes for the last 20 years, company and government officials said. But more recent uncertainty in the health care industry and a creeping decline in federally funded medical coverage reimbursements have left such agreements uncommon.

Future arrangements might have to use government subsidies to ensure that Owensboro and Daviess County remain covered by an ambulance provider.

“It’s possible that there will be no subsidy, but it’s very unlikely,” said City Attorney Ed Ray. “We’re not in negotiations yet, but we’re aware of problem, and we’re addressing it.”

At issue is how much the joint, state-federal Medicare and Medicaid programs agree to reimburse an ambulance contractor per ride. Pay outs haven’t matched the provider’s overhead costs for years, according to Owensboro Fire Chief Steve Mitchell, yet inflation continues to drive up the cost of gasoline, medical supplies and drugs.

Eventually, Mitchell said, it won’t make sense for Yellow Ambulance, or any provider like it, to continue doing business with the city and county without some sort of incentive. For example, he said, an ambulance ride in Daviess County, complete with the use of medical expertise and equipment and adjusted for distance, may cost Yellow Ambulance up to $600. If the patient is elderly and receives health insurance through Medicare, the reimbursement would likely…

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