NASHVILLE — Additional revenue appears to be on the way for the Scott County Ambulance Service.
The Tennessee Senate on Monday gave a unanimous stamp of approval to legislation that will enhance Medicaid reimbursements to ground ambulance services across Tennessee, including the local county-owned EMS.
Senate Bill 704, sponsored by State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, now awaits passage of its companion bill in the House of Representatives before it goes to the desk of Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign the legislation into law.
Essentially, the legislation will restructure EMS funding in Tennessee in order to capitalize on additional federal dollars that are available in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.
Under the current system, Tennessee reimburses 35 percent of ambulance service Medicaid claims through its TennCare program, while the remaining 65 percent is reimbursed by the federal government. The additional money is reserved for states where Medicaid reimbursement is “significantly lacking,” according to a fact sheet prepared by the Tennessee Ambulance Service Association. The organization said that studies show Tennessee’s 125 ground ambulance service providers are under-reimbursed by a total of $23 million.
Under the revised system laid out in the legislation, Tennessee’s ambulance services would collectively pay the state’s 35 percent match for that $23 million, which is about $8 million. The $23 million would then be distributed to the state’s ambulance providers based on Medicaid call volume.
Scott County Ambulance Service Director Jim Reed said Monday that Scott County’s share of the 35 percent match would be between $50,000 and $70,000. But, he added, the local ambulance service’s return on that money would be “three or four times that.”
At a reimbursement rate of $325 per run, Reed said the Scott County Ambulance Service should see its annual revenue increase by about $250,000.
That money will help the local ambulance service “break even,” Reed said.
“When we do transports, we’re consistently losing money,” he said. “We’re averaging, on all of our transports, $224 per call paid by TennCare for Medicaid. That’s hard to do. We’re sending two people to Knoxville for three hours and burning $100 worth of fuel. You can see where that’s not a good situation.”
Reed said the new plan, which must ultimately be approved by TennCare, is a result of years of lobbying.
“We’ve been saying it for years and nobody would listen,” Reed said. The Tennessee Ambulance Service Association prepared multiple plans that ultimately failed, he said, but finally gained traction when a plan was modeled after legislation in Utah that allows the local ambulance services to absorb the state’s 35 percent cost.
“We finally came up (with a plan) where there’s no money involved to the state and they finally listened,” Reed said. “I guess that’s the approach we should’ve used a long time ago.”
Reed said the additional revenue will help the Scott County Ambulance Service with operating capital.
“We need equipment and we need people, and the only way you can do that is to have the funding that you need,” he said. “I’ve always said that if we were hauling potatoes I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but when we’re hauling moms and dads and somebody’s kids, it gets much more serious.”
Reed pointed out that the local ambulance service has in years past been able to contribute to the county’s general fund as a profitable entity. But that is ultimately secondary to the level of service the ambulance service provides, he said.
“What matters to me is that we have everything we need to provide the service that the people of this county deserve,” Reed said.