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City sends unpaid ambulance costs to collections

By Kendra Caruso | Jun 19, 2020
Source: City of Belfast website

Belfast — City Council gave City Treasurer Theresa Butler the go-ahead June 16 to collect three years' worth of unpaid ambulance bills owed to the city.

Since 2011, except for 2012, in which all debts were paid, the city has seen an increase in unpaid ambulance bills, according to Butler. The rate of unpaid bills increased steadily to a staggering 25% of ambulance bills left unpaid in 2019, resulting in an uncollected debt of $303,685.17 last year, she said.

Overall, she reported to the city $1,184,084.68 in unpaid bills for ambulance service. She proposed the city seek collections for the three most recent years of unpaid bills, amounting to $669,922.44 and absorb costs for the years before that, using the surplus fund to forgive $514,162.24 in debt over a number of years. She also proposed the city adopt a policy that would send unpaid bills to collections after 120 days.

Councilors expressed mixed feelings about the issue, saying that the debt needed to be addressed, but also understanding that medical bills are a burden to many local families. City Councilor Mike Hurley said it could be difficult to seek compensation from low-income families. “Chasing poor, broke people because they couldn’t pay for an ambulance seems like a tough road to go down,” he said.

Councilor Mary Mortier said the city could work with individuals on a payment plan to pay off their bills. She said councilors do not want collections “going after people they don’t want them going after.”

The increase in unpaid bills is probably because many insurance companies no longer cover ambulance costs, Butler said. Hurley said the Belfast fire chief is encouraging people to drive to the hospital when they can instead of taking the ambulance.

Mayor Eric Sanders said he is still paying on an ambulance bill from several years ago, and in his experience with paying medical bills, it is not as aggressive as collections on other types of debt. He said usually a person can work out an affordable payment plan.

Mortier said it is worth trying to collect the debt rather than not and spending a large amount of city funds on people’s ambulance bills. “I don’t see why we should continue hurting our surplus without trying this,” she said.

City Manager Erin Herbig said she does not know why the debt was not addressed until now, but she is glad it is being dealt with. Councilors will discuss how to address the debt beyond the three most recent years at a future budget meeting.

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Comments (4)
Posted by: John E Marshall | Jun 24, 2020 13:54

Insurance is like anything else: you get what you pay for. Cheap rates gets you limited coverage. Medicare pays for medically necessary ambulance transport. Does Maine Medicaid? It should. That said, the City should work out payment schedules and is to be congratulated for not using a collection service.

 



Posted by: Amy Slack | Jun 23, 2020 08:06

I hear ya Kevin, just so darn frustrating all the way around!! We pay so much for health insurance and co-pays and every little penny is charged to us from the hospital to the doctor's offices including the ride to the hospital, and then you see so many others right around you who pay nothing and never pay co-pays or one dime towards their medicines and it is super frustrating!! Healthcare for all via the government is long overdue and is not only extremely necessary, it is the fair and right thing to do in this country of such great wealth!! Time to spread the money around for healthcare for all, including the ambulance ride!!!

 



Posted by: Kevin Riley | Jun 20, 2020 18:46

Amy,

I'm not defending the town or what they are doing but lets parse the costs a little.

The cost of keeping a rig like an ambulance running and a available are not insignificant,

The cost of the vehicle to start.  I don't know how Belfast buys the gear but but the error bars on the price is 100-200,000 dollars. If the town finances that they have to buy the loan every month like we do.
Keeping it equipped, fuel, Insurance, preventative maintenance, The driver and EMTs, consumables (like tires). I'm guessing the liability insurance is not insignificant.
I think your ire should be directed to health insurance industry since many have stopped paying for ambulance and helicopter rides.   That 10 miles in a Helo can run up to $10,000.

Hope that helps a little.

 



Posted by: Amy Slack | Jun 20, 2020 14:09

I would like an explanation as to why the cost of a 10-mile ambulance trip to the local hospital is $500.00!! It is no wonder people do not and cannot pay this bill!! Honestly, the Belfast City Council should open up an investigation about these outrageous charges being laid upon it's poor citizens in the worst time possible-when they need help!!



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