Earlier this month, Montgomery County and the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association announced it had signed an agreement that effectively ended the volunteer firefighters’ fight against an ambulance fee passed by the Montgomery County Council.
In the days following the announcement, county officials worried that their message was not being heard and that some media reports had, in the words of Montgomery Fire Chief Richard Bowers, given “the impression that, starting in January, everyone will have to pay for an ambulance ride in Montgomery County.”
“Nothing is further from the truth,” Bowers said in an email to Patch.
Bowers referred residents to a county website with information about the fee.
The website, at www.montgomerycountymd.gov/emts, includes frequently asked questions about the new law.
The following is the first of a two-part “Q & A." Answers are taken from the county website, from Bowers’s email to Patch and from Patch reports on the fee.
Part One discusses what the fee means for you, should you have to call for an ambulance:
Q: When does the new law take effect?
A: Jan. 1.
Q: Will I be billed if I’m transported by ambulance after Jan. 1?
A: No. “County residents who call for an ambulance will never be billed, never pay a cent, never pay a co-pay or deductible,” Bowers said. “If they have insurance, their insurer will be billed. If not, the ride is covered because they are County taxpayers.”
Q: What about people who aren’t county residents?
A: Non-county residents may be responsible for co-pays and deductibles, depending on their insurance policies. Patients who meet financial hardship criteria will be eligible for a waiver of those costs.
Q: So how does the county collect the ambulance fee?
A: The Emergency Medical Services Transport Insurance Reimbursement Program “gives the county the authority to bill insurers for ambulance transports,” Bowers said. “That’s it—plain and simple.”
Q: What if my insurer only covers part of the cost of medical transport?
A: “The county will accept whatever payment an insurer makes on behalf of a resident as ‘payment in full,’” according to the website on the fee. “Residents will not have to deal with any questions or disputes about payment. Issues that arise will be resolved by a company hired by the county to handle the reimbursements.”
Q: Won’t this increase my insurance premiums?
A: No. “The costs of emergency services are already included in the premiums charged by insurers,” the county’s website says. “Rates are set regionally and nearly all of our surrounding jurisdictions already have EMS reimbursement programs. Instead of collecting reimbursements for emergency services, County taxpayers are footing the bill, boosting profits for insurers.”
Q: Will the level of service of county ambulances be affected?
A: “There is no evidence that similar EMS laws in other jurisdictions have resulted in any reluctance on the part of residents to call for emergency services,” the county’s website says. The law passed by the County Council prohibits fire and rescue personnel from asking patients about their insurance coverage.
Q: What’s the bottom line?
A: “You should never be afraid to call for an ambulance if you need one because of cost,” Bowers said. “There won’t be any.”