Medicare Cuts Could Hurt Area Ambulance Services

Sunday, October 1st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Saving money could hamper saving lives.

The people who run ambulances say they're scrambling to see how they can respond to a major cut.

On January 1st, Medicare is slashing nearly 70 million dollars from what they pay out when their patients use an ambulance.

Northeast Oklahoma providers say it's going to be tough to survive the cuts.

Tammy Beam didn't become a paramedic for the money.

“The important thing for us is we are out there saving lives," says Beam.

Besides working the long shifts, Beam and her husband are also the owners of C.A.R.E.-Claremore Ambulance, Rescue and Emergency.

She says, the future doesn't look bright because of the Government' s new payment plan.

“The desperation is life or death. We are either going to have to come up with money or there's going to be no ambulances left in the United States," says Beam.

As costs continue to rise, Medicare is slashing the amount of money it pays for an ambulance ride. Ambulance providers say the new formula will make up only about half of the cost.

"That means we're going to have to come up with some of the difference somewhere," says Beam.

The elderly mainly uses Medicare, and Beam says seniors make up about 70 percent of their clients.

"The person with the private insurance is the one who is going to have to make up the difference," says Beam.

“That's the huge issue. How are we going to fund our operations?" says Chris Metcalf, EMSA.

Chris Metcalf of EMSA says about 50 percent of EMSA's patients use Medicare. Metcalf says EMSA has put away some money preparing for the drops in payment, which kick in on January first.
He says EMSA’s coffers will run dry in a few years.

"We are ready for it January One, but what about five years down the road," says Metcalf.

Ambulance providers say that before they start making cuts to resuscitate their finances, they’re taking their complaints to Capitol Hill.

If they don't listen, Beam says ambulance services will have to ask cities for help or be forced to make cuts. That’s the exact opposite goal of saving lives.

The cutbacks are part of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

Rural hospitals have already swallowed the pill. Their Medicare cutbacks started a couple of years ago.