Help for EMS: Higher fees are needed to keep the service strong

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After nearly a decade without an increase in fees charged for ambulance services and medical care, Pittsburgh's Emergency Medical Services bureau is right to seek a substantial increase.

The sums proposed in a bill introduced in city council on Tuesday would raise some rates by as much as 40 percent, with the charge for basic life support increasing from $500 to $700 and for levels of advanced life support also rising by $200 -- to $850 or $900, depending on the care. In addition, EMS would raise the fees for some services, including the administration of oxygen, EKG monitoring and cervical collars.

Fortunately, city residents will be insulated from the higher rates.

Under EMS regulations, the charges are applied differently depending on whether the patient is a city resident or not. In the case of residents, EMS accepts as payment in full whatever a patient's health insurance, Medicaid or Medicare provides. Uninsured Pittsburghers do not have to pay. By contrast, nonresidents are expected to pay the full amount whether they're insured or not. If their insurance company covers only part of the bill, they are expected to pay the rest.

That's only fair.

City residents pay property and income taxes to help fund municipal services, but nonresidents, for the most part, do not. City taxpayers should not have to subsidize medical care that visitors may require while inside the city limits, just as suburbanites don't subsidize care that city residents may require when visiting those communities.

The city EMS deserves to receive an appropriate fee for its services from medical providers as well as commuters and visitors. Currently, the bureau brings in enough revenue to support only about three-quarters of its budget, according to Mark Bocian, acting EMS chief, and he said the city's rates should be comparable to surrounding municipalities.

When it comes to covering the cost of municipal services, every little bit helps.

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