A ride to hospital may get costlier

The Spring Hill and county services say they need rate hikes.

Published May 25, 2007

SPRING HILL - Trips to a hospital soon could cost patients a lot more.

Ambulance transport rates in Hernando County are the lowest in a six-county region, fire officials say. Spring Hill Fire Rescue charges a $285 flat fee whether the call is for a twisted ankle or advanced life support; Hernando County Fire Rescue charges $300.

Neighboring counties charge a lot more. Citrus County, for example, charges $500 for transport.

The rates in Hernando have been stagnant, officials note, while the costs of fuel and medical care have skyrocketed.

"Our rates have not increased in over six years, and the cost of doing business has continually increased," fire Chief J.J. Morrison told the Spring Hill Fire Rescue board Wednesday night.

The Hernando County Fire Rescue District has rates that are slightly higher rates than Spring Hill's but are lower than surrounding counties. The district also is considering a rate boost.

Morrison said the base ambulance transport fee in Spring Hill could rise by at least 10 percent, along with the cost residents are charged for mileage.

And instead of having one fee for all types of ambulance runs, a tiered rate system could be used, similar to ones in use by Hernando County Fire Rescue.

Morrison pointed out that there is more expensive medical technology in ambulances. For example, costs have gone up because items that used to be reused, such as the squeeze bag paramedics sometimes use to help patients breathe, are now all disposable.

The price of gas - the district now charges $5 per mile - is also more expensive, he said. The fire chief recommended that mileage be upped to $7 or $8 per mile.

"When we implemented that rate, diesel was 80 cents a gallon," Morrison said. "Fuel costs are crippling us."

Morrison also said that the low transportation rate affects the reimbursement rates for Medicare and private insurance companies, another issue that must be addressed.

Numbers compiled by Hernando Chief Mike Nickerson show that both of the Hernando rescue districts are on the low end of fees charged by neighboring counties such as Pasco and Citrus.

For example, Pasco charges $375 for a basic ambulance ride without advanced life support, and $7 per mile. Nature Coast EMS in Citrus charges $500 for a similar trip to the hospital, and $8.50 per mile.

Hernando County Fire Rescue charges $300 for the same trip, and $7 per mile.

"Our rates haven't changed in almost 10 years," Nickerson said. "We're still in the planning stages of this, but it's pretty apparent looking at regional averages that our rates are on the low end.

"It's important that people utilizing the service pay their fare share toward providing it."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.