SANDOWN – By Sept. 1, the Sandown Fire Department will start billing for ambulance rides, the handful they make a year. At Town Meeting in March, voters approved the creation of a separate fund for the proceeds from that work, and at the July 15 selectmen’s meeting, the board signed a contract with the service that will do the billing.
Fire’s Jon Goldman explained the process, noting that it wasn’t a moneymaker and that Sandown wasn’t going into the business of ambulance transport. The town currently contracts with private firm Trinity EMS for ambulance service. But there are times, especially because six local towns have agreed to share two of Trinity’s ambulances, that Sandown is forced to use its own ambulance.
This is rare, said Goldman. It happens three or four times a year, such as when a patient’s condition is critical and it doesn’t make sense to wait for Trinity to arrive, or to move the person again, or when there is more than one patient to transport, as in a car crash.
But until now all of those transports from Sandown had no cost. If a car crash occurred and Trinity took one patient and the town the other, the Trinity patient would get a substantial bill and the Sandown patient, nothing.
The billing rates were matched with Hampstead’s rates, as they follow the same process that Sandown does. Hampstead is one of the six towns that shares Trinity in the area. These rates are 30 percent plus the Medicare reimbursement. With the number of calls that Sandown handles, the fund established by voters isn’t going to fill up fast, explained Goldman, but in the future it could help offset equipment costs.
Selectmen were concerned about how Sandown residents would get billed, and whether they would be charged twice for their ambulance, once through taxes and once through a bill.
Goldman explained that while all transports will be billed, Sandown residents will not be responsible for paying that bill.
The town will take what Medicare pays and call it good. The bill will go out after a transport, and then the department will call that person and tell him or her to throw away the bill.
Goldman explained that non-residents will be expected to pay, but the town is not getting into the business of tracking down unpaid bills with court dates or aggressive tactics.
“It’s not our intention to get into the ambulance business,” said Goldman.
The board unanimously agreed to the contract with Comstar Ambulance Billing. Comstar is paid 10 percent of what the town bills. There is no flat rate or additional cost.