By Andrew Wroblewski
Facing steep proposed budget cuts from both towns of Huntington and Smithtown, the Commack Volunteer Ambulance Corps has begun a medical billing system that charges patients for emergency services rendered.
Under the new system, which the ambulance corps started implementing July 1 and the town retroactively approved Tuesday, patients are billed for services like basic and advanced life support and ambulance transportation.
Depending on their medical coverage, patients are typically charged a co-pay for visits to the emergency room, which will now incorporate services rendered by the ambulance corps, allowing it to charge insurers. If a patient isn’t insured, the ambulance corps will pull from its operating budget to cover the cost, Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone said Tuesday.
The ambulance corps estimates it could collect $416,417 in 2016 through “user fees” as part of the system, according to information supplied to Huntington.
The corps now charges users $25 per mile traveled in an ambulance and $775-$1,250 depending on the services provided by EMS workers.
It was unclear as of press time whether the Town of Smithtown had yet to approve the switch.
“They came to us even before the budget was done and said they need additional revenue,” A.J. Carter, Huntington town spokesman said Wednesday.
Huntington budgeted $596,671 for the Commack ambulance corps in 2015, but has proposed cutting that funding by about 25 percent to $449,746 in 2016.
Similarly, the Town of Smithtown – which shares the Commack Ambulance District with Huntington – has also proposed cutting funding to Commack from $997,775 in 2015 to a tentative $698,596 in 2016 – by about 30 percent.
“I think it’s a good opportunity to relieve the taxpayer,” Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Petrone suggested Tuesday that the Huntington Community First Aid Squad -- which similarly is facing a proposed budget cut -- also adopt a charge-per-use system, despite dozens of HCFAS supporters pleading for the board to restore funding at the board meeting Tuesday night.
“Why burden the taxpayer when, if they indeed have an insurance policy and they’re paying for it, that’s what it’s for?,” Petrone said. “It can relieve the total taxpayer in any given district of a burden or have those additional dollars to do exactly what many of them want, [to purchase] new updated equipment, medical supplies and all of that.”