By Andy Netzel
Free Press Staff Writer
All patients receiving ambulance care in South Burlington are scheduled to begin paying for it today.
University of Vermont Rescue, the student-run organization that provides ambulance service to the city, previously provided its service for a $24,000 annual fee. Other towns received free service.
As of today, UVM Rescue will bill for each visit to all towns. The city of South Burlington will no longer pay the annual fee.
UVM Rescue relied on donations, a stipend from the university and fund-raisers to pay its $130,000 in yearly costs.
Insurance companies -- and federal programs such as Medicare and Medicaid -- will pick up the $300 to $500 charge and customers shouldn't notice much of a difference, UVM Rescue spokeswoman Tanya Tersillo said. All customers will be charged the new fees, which are less than some Chittenden County ambulance services and more than others.
Some people fear the new policy will discourage people from using an ambulance.
Nancy Williams, 83, doesn't plan to get in an ambulance now that UVM Rescue is charging.
The South Burlington woman had felt dizzy for two hours when the Allenwood retirement community nurse manager called for an ambulance July 18.
Williams said she couldn't stand up, nor could she get hold of her daughter to drive her to the hospital. A Burlington ambulance ferried her because UVM Rescue was unavailable.
Three months later, a three-page lawyerly letter from Medicare said she had not needed to go to the hospital and she would have to reimburse the government program for the trip. Now, 8 months later, she's still fighting the charges.
"I will never take an ambulance again," she said. "People should be shocked. The whole thing has been like a nightmare."
Barbara Moynan, nurse manager for the Allenwood retirement community at Pillsbury Manor, said patients shouldn't have to think about their pocketbooks when in an emergency situation.
"If someone is disoriented," she said, "I'm not going to send her in a cab."
Moynan said she is concerned that those who should take an ambulance will opt for cab rides for fear of being stuck with the bill.
Such worries are unfounded, Tersillo said.
"If the patient feels they have some sort of necessity to be transported, or the nurse on duty feels they should be, they shouldn't have a problem with insurance," she said.
UVM Rescue wouldn't likely send a collection agency after someone when it thinks an insurance provider unjustly refused payment, Tersillo said.
Most ambulance services collect about 70 percent of the payments they bill, Tersillo said. Some of the 30 percent uncollected are because of insurance discrepancies, she said.
UVM Rescue was dispatched 2,200 times in 2003 to campus, South Burlington, Interstate 189, a portion of Interstate 89 and numerous calls to assist other rescue squads.
Even if UVM Rescue had not decided to charge patients, South Burlington residents might have eventually been billed anyway. South Burlington is trying to start its own ambulance service. Approval of two May ballot items would create the service, costing the average property owner $15 a year and a fee to use the ambulance.
If the ambulance service is created, UVM Rescue would see the number of calls decline to between 750 and 1,500 depending on how mutual aid is divided, Tersillo said.
Emergency medical technicians at the UVM Rescue quarters Wednesday welcomed the change. The predominately volunteer squad spends a lot of time raising funds in addition to saving lives, said Kris Halliwell, a driver with the squad.
"Billing will give us an opportunity to continue what we're doing, but not worry about the monkey on our shoulder of keeping a tight budget, not having enough food and having really old amenities," he said.
Contact Andy Netzel at 660-1867 or email@example.com