Ambulance rides will cost a bit more next year.

A 2.3% increase in ambulance rates was approved by the Board of Selectmen on Aug. 13, with the board taking great pains to make clear that cost should never discourage someone from calling a needed ambulance — help paying the cost is available, the town doesn’t chase after unpaid ambulance bills, don’t hesitate to call…

“I don’t want people to be afraid to call an ambulance,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who abstained, making vote to raise the rates 4-0-1..

The rate increase would push the cost of a basic ambulance ride up by $17 — to $743 in 2019, from $726 this year, for the minimal “basic life support” ambulance service.

An “advanced life support level 1” ambulance ride would go to $1,175, from the current $1,149.

And “advanced life support level 2” ambulance service would increase to $1,214 from today’s $1,187.

The per mile charge would go to $18.08 per mile in 2019, up from $17.67 per miles in 2018.

“Are there scholarships, if people can’t afford rides?” asked Selectman Steve Zemo.

“Any patient who has insurance of any kind, and the patient approves it, the bill goes directly to the insurance company,” said Fire Chief Jerry Myers, whose department runs the town’s ambulance service.

Insurance companies usually cover ambulance service routinely — or make only a minimal effort to avoid paying.

“They may try, on first pass, to deny it,” Myers said.

Although the billing is contracted out, it is kept a low-key process of only two steps.

“We don’t use a collection agency. We don’t use any harsh tactics or phone calls,” Myers said. “There’s an invoice, and a follow-up.”

The town’s income from ambulance services was budgeted at $825,000 for 2017-18 and the amount expected as revenue drops to $800,000 for 2018-19.

Ambulance income for the last completed, audited fiscal year, 2016-17 was $792,647.

The budget for firefighting and EMS (emergency medical service) is about $4 million for 2018-19.

“Our budget is just under $4 million,” Myers told the selectmen. “If we’re having a good year, we make $800,000 in revenue.”

The cost of ambulance and related EMS service isn’t separated from firefighting costs in the budget. The biggest expense is personnel, and the firefighters are on duty all the time, responding to both ambulance calls and fire calls.

“Since our staff perform fire and EMS related tasks interchangeably, there is no easy way to determine what amounts are related only to EMS,” Chief Myers told The Press.

Data

Emergency medical calls do make up the bulk of the department’s responses.

For the most recent completed calendar year, 2017, the fire department had 3,213 calls, and 2,108 of them — 66% — were EMS calls.

Of the remaining calls, 657 or 20% were “non-medical fire engine response” events. And 448 calls, or 14%, were for automatic fire alarms.

That pattern has held over time, with EMS responses making up 63% of the department’s slightly over 3,000 calls in both 2015 and 2014.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi told The Press the town will find a way to cover the cost of ambulance service for people who face difficulty paying, so cost should never be a concern when considering whether to call the ambulance.

“There’s always assistance available,” Marconi said.

“What we don’t want is senior citizens to be concerned about use of their insurance,” he said.

“‘I can drive’ or ‘I’ll have my spouse drive.’ We tell people to call.

“We encourage people to go to the hospital,” Marconi added. “If you felt bad enough to call an ambulance — regardless of how you feel once it gets there — take a ride.”

The 2.3% rate increase, the maximum allowed by the state next year, is effective Jan. 1, 2019.