Ambulance services hope for help from state

There could be some help from the state Legislature on the horizon for struggling ambulance services in the area.

“We are very much at a critical point. It is very serious out there,” said Clarion County Commissioner Ed Heasley, a former volunteer firefighter.

Heasley said the Northwest Pennsylvania Ambulances Services — which comprises Clarion, Venango, Forest, Crawford, Mercer, Warren and Erie counties — recently met in Saegertown, and “They were all concerned about the lower reimbursement rate and the cost of new equipment. The biggest problem is that they are losing staff.”

Local attempts to increase funding met with limited success.

“The townships and municipalities in Clarion County were asked to step up and chip in, but only a few have done so,” Heasley said. “Southern Clarion County Ambulance Service has received support from the Rimersburg area. We need help from the state.”

State House Bill 2434, it is hoped, could provide that relief.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Services Act was enacted in 2009. It states “Residents of this Commonwealth and visitors to this Commonwealth should have prompt and unimpeded access to urgent and emergency medical care throughout this Commonwealth.”

However, ambulance services in northwestern Pennsylvania continue to struggle, which is due in part to the lack of a sustainable funding model that covers both the cost of readiness and the cost of providing service.

The Clarion County commissioners are reviewing a letter of support for House Bill 2434. The bill would increase current ambulance transportation Medicaid reimbursement rates.

The commissioners also have proposed two amendments to the bill.

The first is a “paramedic intercept rate” of not less than $361.09.

An “intercept” is when an ambulance service with advanced life support has a rendezvous with an ambulance service with only basic life support, according to a Medicaid study.

For example, the commissioners’ suggested amendment would provide payment for both ambulance services treating victims at the scene of a multivehicle accident.

The calculation is based on the current Medicare paramedic intercept reimbursement rate of $417.44. The current intercept rate is also adjusted based on each ambulance inflation factor.

The commissioners’ second suggested amendment adds verbiage that requires payment for services at the level provided for all 911 emergency transports. Currently EMS is unable to bill Medicaid for transports that are not medically necessary as defined by Medicaid, but were initiated as the result of a 911 request.

EMS providers are required to transport any patient requesting transport to a hospital as the result of emergency request, regardless of any insurance definition of “medically necessary.”

“The current infrastructure that provides ambulance transportation in our communities continues to struggle, and this would be one action that would assist in covering the cost of the service provided,” Heasley said.

Clarion County Commissioner Wayne Brosius said he would “urge Clarion County residents to join their local ambulance service. That would provide immediate support.”