Jackson Township Fire Chief Lloyd Sheets has one regret about billing for transport of emergency patients to local hospitals – he wished he had done it sooner.
The township started the practice in April of 2006, although hospitals have been billing insurance companies for emergency transport for many years and then restocking squads with supplies. Once a fire department starts contracting for their own billing, the hospital no longer recoups the insurance payments and the cost of EMS equipment is borne by the department.
However, the cost of billing and buying is outweighed by the revenue, that once went to a hospital, now collected by Jackson Township since it began working with Med3000, an agency that assembles patient information and then bills insurance companies for emergency transportation.
"We looked at a lot of the issues of billing and how it would affect insurance rates," said Sheets, who oversees the second busiest emergency department in Franklin County. "We decided it was a source of money that was not only legal, it really didn’t affect rates because insurance companies were already paying a fee to the hospital for transport."
"We estimated we’d receive $800,000 to $900,000 a year from billing, but we’re now leveling out at $105,000 to $110,000 a month, which is more than we thought. We have to pay for our own supplies, but since the funds go into an EMS fund, we’re now able to buy vehicles with the money, too, like a new $150,000 one we just purchased, instead of taking it out of the department’s budget," Sheets said.
He added, "The community has doubled in size and we have not gone out for a new fire levy in 20 years. By billing for services people were already paying for, this will allow us to push a potential levy out hopefully for another three to five years. We’re trying to use taxpayer money the best we can."
Med3000 retains 7 percent of what it collects from insurance companies. The remaining 93 percent covers the cost of supplies, such as drugs, IVs, and bandages and equipment; vehicles; manpower; and maintenance.
According to Sheets, Dayton began billing for EMS transport nearly two decades ago, but it took a while for the concept to gain acceptance in central Ohio. Communities took a wait and see approach when Columbus started the practice, but the majority of surrounding departments now collect for services through companies such as Med3000.
The average bill for transport to a medical center is $750 to $800, but the amount usually collected is only $350. Sheets said the township takes whatever the insurance company pays and only does "soft billing" to patients. Residents in Jackson Township, Grove City, and Urbancrest should never see a bill for emergency transportation and medics will not ask if a patient has insurance; that information is collected from hospital records by the billing company.
"The only time you could see a bill is if you live outside the township and we transport you. By law we have to send up to three bills," continued Sheets. "Then there are instances when the insurance company sends the check directly to the patient, which should be sent to the department. Sometimes residents receive something that looks like a bill, but usually it’s only a request for more information and generally says so at the top of the page."
"Billing is a way of receiving funds to continue providing excellent service and extending the life of the fire levy without additional taxes," Sheets stated. "The insurance companies said it wouldn’t raise rates because they were already paying for transport to the hospitals. The hospitals were against it because they were able to charge the fee and get the revenue. I only wish we would have started this six years ago."