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Info meeting set on EMS insurance billing

November 27, 2018

The city of Friendswood will host a Dec. 11 meeting to inform residents of the plan to transition its emergency medical response in January from a free service funded by donations and taxes to an insurance billing model.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Kenneth Camp Fire Station’s training room at 1610 Whitaker Drive.

City officials and representatives from Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department Emergency Medical Services and the Fire Marshal’s Office will attend the meeting, as well as representatives from Dallas-based Emergicon Emergency Medical Consultants, which will handle billing services for the EMS.

Previously, EMS expenses was covered through revenue from property taxes and through voluntary donations, which weren’t covering the cost, City Councilman Steve Rockey has said. The EMS arm of the fire department costs the city around $2 million per year to operate.

The city’s firefighting services is funded by $1.8 million included in the city’s annual budget, according to a statement from the city. Residents will still be able to make $6 donations to the fire department and the EMS through their water bill — money that city officials say is needed to buy vehicles and equipment.

Mayor Mike Foreman said the new model that will bill insurance companies puts the majority of the cost of the service where it belongs.

“This just relieves property tax revenue on our residents,” Foreman said.

Cost of EMS service varies, according to the city’s statement, depending on a patient’s medical coverage and level of need when an ambulance is called.

For example, if EMS transported a person needing the lowest level of care to a hospital seven miles away, insurance would be billed $1,730, according to the statement.

The city’s previous practice has been not to charge Friendswood residents for ambulance services except when all Friendswood EMS units were busy and an outside unit was dispatched to the call, such as from Alvin or Pearland. Neighboring cities charge for ambulance services to Friendswood residents, but Friendswood EMS units did not charge for services in those neighboring cities.

That practice was one factor that has caused Friendswood EMS to lose money over the years, City Manager Morad Kabiri said.

Another cause was certified emergency medical technicians’ demand to be paid a salary, he said.

“On the EMS side, it’s become a paid staffing,” Kabiri said. “We’ve found fewer and fewer people willing to volunteer their time.”

jaimy.jones@chron.com

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