HOUSTON—The City of Houston will vote on a proposal to instate a mileage fee on ambulance rides, potentially costing citizens $100,000 a year.
About 45-percent of patients transported to hospitals aboard HFD ambulances never pay a dime for their rides. That dramatic loss of potential revenue is one of the reasons the city government is looking for new ways to pay for its ambulance service and one of the motivations behind a proposed revival of the city’s ambulance mileage fee.
Houston dropped the fee in 2010 when it raised the base price for an ambulance ride to $1000. But the city quickly learned that it was missing out on millions of dollars in potential revenue that most patients would never have to pay out of their own pockets.
"The reason it’s being implemented is that there are people, entities, Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies that plan to pay for a mileage fee," says Chris Newport, a spokesman for the city’s Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department. "And we’d like to get Houstonians’ share of that money."
The proposal would impose a $13 a mile fee on ambulance rides, up from the $7.50 a mile fee charged until 2010. Paramedics point out that such fees are common among private ambulance services. It’s expected to raise about $2.7-million a year for the city coffers, about $100,000 of which would come from individuals rather than insurers.
Houston city council is scheduled to vote on the idea Wednesday. The proposal sent to council members points out the dramatic financial impact created by patients who don’t pay their ambulance bills in Houston, where it’s estimated roughly one-fourth of all residents go without health insurance.
"People used to think that the folks who couldn’t pay their medical bills were all folks without a job, without an education," says Dr. David Persse, Houston’s EMS director. "And I don’t know if that’s the case anymore. I think we have a lot of folks who are young and otherwise healthy and are just getting started in life who find health insurance expensive and hard to get. And so they go without it."