Volunteer firefighters seek to bill insurance companies for ambulance calls

NEW YORK (WABC) – The New York Volunteer Fire Department may soon be able to bill insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, for ambulance calls.

For 16 years, volunteer fire companies have been fighting for change, arguing that they are only asking to do what all other ambulance providers already do – charge for patient insurance.

Volunteer firefighters fund their ambulances through taxes and fundraising because under New York State law they are not allowed to bill insurance companies for ambulance calls. New York is the only state in the country with such regulations.

New York State Sen. John Brooks (D-Massapequa) is one of the co-sponsors of the bill that would allow volunteer fire companies to charge for people’s insurance.

Brooks said it is common sense that insurance companies, which already receive premiums for ambulance services, should reimburse volunteer firefighters.

“We shouldn’t have to go to the taxpayer to cover these costs when someone else who we’re paying a premium to — an insurance premium — says, oh, we’re covering that,” Brooks said.

The bill passed the New York State Senate earlier this month and is included in the Senate’s single budget proposal. If this is included in the state budget next week, it will become law. Otherwise, the National Assembly should seize it.

“We need it so we don’t have to raise taxes,” Terryville Fire Captain William Theis said of the bill.
Theis said he has been meeting with lawmakers in Albany over the past year to get them to pass the bill.

Theis said the volunteer firefighters had incurred high expenses during Covid with all the ambulance calls.

“We are New York State’s true first responders,” Theis said.

James Rant, commissioner of the Terryville Volunteer Fire Department, said half of the department’s annual budget is spent on running its ambulance service – $3 million. Rant said the department responds to more than 3,000 ambulance calls each year.

“We cannot continue to dip into the pockets of taxpayers,” he said. “It’s becoming unsustainable.”

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Kristan F. Talley