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New EMS billing policy going smoothly, official says

February 11, 2019

Since going into effect Jan.1, the city of Friendswood’s new policy of billing patients’ insurance companies for emergency medical services is so far working well, says a fire official who reflected on how unusual and problematic the city’s previous policy was.

“As far as we can tell, everything is running very smoothly so far,” Assistant Fire Marshal Brian Mansfield said of the new approach, which was approved in 2018 after seven years of discussion on how to best fund fire and emergency services. “There haven’t been any hiccups, and everyone is adhering to protocol. We’re still gathering data, but it’s going well.”

Mansfield said that the new billing system isn’t that unusual among Lone Star municipal fire departments, but that the previous one — in which the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department didn’t charge for calls and relied on donations and city property tax revenue — was outside the norm.

“We were one of maybe two departments in the state of Texas that did it the way we did it before,” he said. “With our growth, it just wasn’t feasible anymore.”

The EMS arm of the Friendswood department costs the city around $2 million per year to operate.

In August, the city awarded a contract to Emergicon, a Dallas-based company, for medical billing services. The city projects that insurance payments will bring in anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million annually based on previous service levels.

Apart from perhaps answering a few questions about their insurance, patients will see no difference in an emergency call now than before the switch occurred, Mansfield said.

Under the new billing program, the city will bill the companies for ambulance service provided by the fire department as well as for calls that do not result in patient transport to a hospital. City officials have pledged not to target patients to pay if insurance policies don’t cover the entire costs of services.

“Everyone still gets access to emergency services regardless of their insurance situation,” Mansfield said.

A sufficient, dependable flow of revenue is needed to meet staffing and equipment needs, he said.

“Staffing is typically the largest expense of any department, and that’s true for EMS as well,” he said. “You have to have someone to come in and man a station anywhere from 12 to 24 hours, they go out on several calls, and in addition to that, our call volume is increasing. So, we need more staff on hand in order to properly manage the call volume.”

Fees range depending on the level of care provided. Through the plan, basic life support transport to the hospital costs $1,000. Previously, the city’s EMS staff had not charged for calls.

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