Houston had dropped the mileage fee two years ago when council voted to raise the fee for an ambulance ride from $400 to $1,000. But dropping the fee disqualified the city from claiming about $2.7 million a year in Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance reimbursement.
The city also realizes that there are some who will not pay the $13.00 per mile charge, because it does not collect a cent from the indigent uninsured, who account for about 45 percent of the some 130,000 ambulance rides from the fire department's EMS units.
The measure passed by a vote of 12-4 with council members like CO Bradford opposing.
"You shouldn't fee, or charge Houston residents in my view, for the delivery of core services. And I do have a concern, because I've had dozens of citizens express concern to me that they may not call an ambulance. They don't know whether they're covered via the insurance, whether the insurance is gonna pay it or not."
But colleague Melissa Noriega says the fee is needed.
"This has been a structural problem, we need to fix it. And, I don't think it's unusual to have to go back and tweak something when you've made a big change. I think our firefighters are the best, maybe in the world, certainly in the United States. If you have an incident where you can't breathe, you choke, you have a heart attack, a stroke, they will save you if you can be saved. And it is one of the most powerful and important core services that we provide."
Mayor Annise Parker says it has always been a struggle for people who call an ambulance.
"We have intervention programs for people who we would call 'frequent fliers,' who regularly abuse the ambulance service. And, if you in fact need the ambulance, or transported by ambulance and you receive a bill for that, there are a range of things that can happen. If you have private insurance, that insurance pays for ambulance transport. If you have Medicaid or Medicare, they pay for the ambulance transport. If you don't, we have payment plans available, and if you are truly indigent, then we don't charge you."
Parker adds there are only two ways to pay for things, taxes or a fee for services. And the decision was made to hold the line on
taxes, but to make sure that specialized services are paid for by people who use them.