Press Editorial

August 31, 2010

By Staff

Ambulance fees worth considering

Yes, the economy has not turned around, but sometimes government cannot simply slice and dice its way to a balanced budget. All ideas are on the table for increasing revenue — including an Eastside Fire & Rescue fee for ambulance rides.

The city of Sammamish has asked EFR to present a budget with no increase in spending from last year. While unrealistic, it’s an interesting exercise, and has produced some interesting ideas. Charging for ambulance rides is one worth examining.

This practice exists in other parts of the country, and indeed, in other parts of King County. No critically-injured person has yet to be denied a ride to the hospital because they had a maxed-out credit card.

Most agencies, when pressed, admit they don’t invest much time and energy trying to extract payments from residents who can’t afford to pay. Most insurance providers cover the cost of the ambulance ride, and they do pay their claims. It doesn’t seem to matter if the ride is provided by a private ambulance company or a public fire agency.

But it may not be that simple. It is possible that costs would end up being passed on to residents and businesses through higher insurance premiums. EFR should study that possible impact during its discussions.

There is also some concern about the idea of double charging. After all, residents already pay for the ambulance, the salary of the emergency medical technicians, the gas in the vehicle and everything else through their taxes. Should they have to pay a second time, whether it be through a direct payment or via higher insurance?

In a fair and perfect world, no.

But today’s reality is neither of those things, and full of examples of government double-dipping. Taxpayers already pay tolls to drive on roads they paid to build, and fees to use park facilities that they already own. Taxpayers have put up with it, recognizing the fee model as a more equitable way of distributing costs.

Unfortunately, the charge for EFR to give medical transport to a hospital or to another waiting ambulance is probably necessary.

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