NYC ambulance rides are about to cost a whole lot more — here’s why

New York Post | December 1, 2020
By Carl Campanile

New York City is hiking the fees it charges insurers and patients to help cover the costs of emergency ambulance responses to 911 calls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The double-digit increases, administered by the Fire Department Emergency Medical Services, will go into effect Jan. 1 and are expected to raise an additional $4 million.

The 911 ambulance service charges increase from $775 to $900 for Basic Life Support Ambulance service, a 16 percent increase.

The fee for Advanced Life Support Ambulance Level 1 goes up from $1,310 to $1,525, also a 16 percent jump.

Moreover, the bill for Advanced Life Support Level 2 medical response rises from $1,420 to $1,625, a 14 percent increase.

The fee schedule for the first time imposes a new $1,050 “treatment in place” charge if paramedics on the scene with a patient get virtual assistance to treat patients via video or audio hook-up.

An FDNY spokesman said the higher fees were supposed to be implemented earlier but were shelved when COVID-19 hit the Big Apple with a vengeance in March.

The fees were last raised in 2017.

The cost of the FDNY’s EMS service is approximately $600 million a year, not including firefighters’ response to medical calls and the 911 transport fees yield $180 million in revenue — meaning the city subsidizes $420 million of the costs.

The government insurance programs — Medicare and Medicaid — typically pay lower rates than billed and people without insurance cannot and often do not pay the difference or anything at all, according to the FDNY.

The head of the union representing the FDNY/EMS’ paramedics and emergency medical technicians should be used to boost salaries of the ambulance workers.

“It’s the wrong time to raise the fees. But if we are going to raise the fees the revenue should be shared by raising the wages of our workers,” said Oren Barzilay, president of EMS Local 257.

Barzilay has long complained that the entry-level and top salaries of paramedics and EMTs, particularly compared to firefighters or other first responders such as police.

He also talked about the bravery of his EMS members who risked their health and lives during the COVID-19 crisis, often the first to treat sick patients before transporting them to hospitals.

FDNY EMS handles 70 percent of all the city’s ambulance calls.

One city lawmaker supported the fee hikes as necessary.

“There’s no money tree for the FDNY,” said Staten Island Councilman Joe Borelli, who chairs the committee on fire and emergency services.

“You have to keep up with the cost of medical services. Most people’s insurances pay for the ambulance bills. But there’s a difficulty in finding patients and collecting in some cases.”

Borelli said more of the revenues should be used to boost salaries of EMS workers.