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After 20 years without an increase, Cleveland to consider yearly EMS fee hikes

Cleveland EMS ambulance traveling through Downtown Cleveland.
Kenneth Sponsler
Cleveland EMS ambulance traveling through Downtown Cleveland.

The city of Cleveland will start reviewing the fees they charge for hospital transports by city ambulances every year, shortly after raising rates for the first time in decades.

In July, rates went up from ranging between $350 and $500 to between $750 and $1300.

“The EMS rates for the city of Cleveland have not been on par with that of other jurisdictions,” said Public Safety Director Karrie Howard, who oversees the city’s Division of Emergency Medical Services. “We have had discussions about the funds the city was missing out from payment for ambulance transport.”

The city did not provide to council the rates used as a comparison to determine Cleveland’s were unusually low.

Officials told council they will start reviewing and considering increases every year.

“So, as Medicare rates go up, and we will know that through EMS billing, we will then do this much more often,” said Controller Jim Gentile.

The EMS Commissioner has the authority to raise rates every year. Safety Committee Chairman Mike Polensek asked officials to come in front of council before the next increase.

“There were questions raised by the body, concerned about the rate increases and how they would impact especially non-insured individuals,” Polensek said.

The increased costs are likely to fall mostly on private insurers.

EMS only bills for ambulance transports to hospitals or other health care facilities.

Overall, 94% of the yearly income comes from Medicare or Medicaid. The amount Medicaid reimburses is already maxed out, according Gentile, and there are federal limits on billing for Medicare patients.

The other 6% comes from private insurance or people who pay the bills themselves.

The city expects the increased rates to bring in about $1.2 million dollars a year, $1.1 million of that is expected to come from private insurers.

Officials said insurance companies are willing to pay higher rates, but any gaps will end up billed to the resident who needed the ambulance.

Matthew Richmond is a reporter/producer focused on criminal justice issues at Ideastream Public Media.