EMSA funding concerns raised

Tuesday, August 23rd 2005, 10:30 am
By: News On 6

Funding troubles for Tulsa's ambulance service. It's not so much rising costs, but a drop in payments. With so many patients not paying - and insurance companies not paying full price - EMSA is caught in financial bind.

News on 6 reporter Emory Bryan says Steve Williamson knows the ambulance business. He's the CEO of EMSA, with 27 years of experience. So when he says EMSA needs help, city councilors listen.

At a briefing on EMSA's budget Tuesday morning, Williamson told the Tulsa city council the ambulance service will slowly go broke without a subsidy from the city. EMSA expects to need a $2.5-million subsidy in 2007 and by 2010 need $3.7-million a year from the city of Tulsa.

Williamson says charging more isn't the answer because most times EMSA doesn't get what it charges now. "Rates and costs don't have any comparison in the business because so many of the rates are fixed by third parties, so if you raise the rates, you just have a bigger write off."

EMSA says only about 20% of the people they transport pay full price. The rest pay only part of the bill - or none of the bill. They believe that equation will get even worse with time. A big part of the problem is the reimbursement for patients on Medicare and Medicaid. They make up half of EMSA's patients, but Medicare pays only 80%, and Medicaid pays only 42% of the bill. EMSA charges $458 a trip. But Medicare pays only $388, and soon will trim that back to $290.

While many other cities subsidize ambulance service as much as $20 per person, EMSA believes it can get by with less than that. "We hope to be somewhere near half that as this Medicare transition takes place." And EMSA hopes to get a subsidy from all the cities it serves - including Jenks, Bixby and Sand Springs.

The briefing for the Tulsa city council was just a warning that the city should start planning how to come up with the money. The councilors asked for more details on EMSA's costs and they'll meet again in two weeks.