City Council approves higher ambulance transportation fees

VISTA — The authorization to restore a fourth authorized Advanced Life Support ambulance in the city of Vista led council members to deliberate and unanimously approve a raise in its ambulance transportation fees effective July 1.

Current ambulance fees for Vista residents will increase from $1,188 to $1,697. Nonresidents will see a rise from $1,325 to $1,829. Cost increases cited were in line with other neighboring cities. The present transportation mileage fee of $18 per mile will get a boost to $27 per mile, also effective July 1.

Before the public hearing, Vista Fire Chief Jeff Hahn explained that after the fourth ambulance restoration was approved, he was directed by staff to bring options to help fund this service back to the City Council for discussion. According to Hahn, general fund money should be provided for a full-service fire department that is trained, equipped and ready to respond at all times to calls for emergency service. While the general fund provides funding for emergency services, he said, balancing these expenditures with the users of emergency medical services helps to distribute operational costs between taxpayers and users also takes place.

“All residents and nonresidents who utilize the fire department/paramedic ambulance transport service are charged a fee,” Hahn said. “Base rates are established to cover the fixed costs of personnel, nondisposable supplies and equipment assigned to the ambulances. The ambulance fees have been allowed to be adjusted annually based on the Ambulance Inflation Factor, or AIF, which is set each year by the federal government for Medicare fees.”

Hahn wanted the City Council to know that staffing and equipment may cause an increase beyond the number outlined by the AIF over time. Additionally, the changes in Medicare and reimbursement from health insurance companies have negatively impacted the collection of revenues.

Restructuring the ambulance transportation service fee was an option to help mitigate this, particularly with restoring the fourth ambulance.

Hahn presented ALS-2 fees, which were consistent with the average fees that were charged by other providers in the San Diego region.

“After the initial year, the ambulance transport service fee will continue to be adjusted annually based on the AIF,” Hahn said. “This will allow the department to keep pace with rising costs and it’s intended to increase revenue by $96,000 per year to help offset costs.”   

Councilman Joe Green said that it was his understanding that if an ambulance from Oceanside or San Marcos came into Vista, people were already paying those fees. And if a Vista ambulance went into those cities, people were receiving a discount because Vista hadn’t changed their price structure yet.

For Green, the increase made complete sense from an accounting view to keep prices customary within the county.

“It’s great that our residents do get a better discount than nonresidents,” Green said.

Also questioned was what fee an undocumented resident living in Vista would receive.  According to Hahn, if they live in Vista, then they are considered a resident regardless of their immigration status.

Despite the increases in mileage jumping to $27, Green said he believed that the Vista prices are still relatively below average for the county.

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