“Obamacare” threatening survival of Ute Pass Ambulance
The region’s leading ambulance company is changing its focus in order to survive, and will not retain a designation as an ambulance district anymore.
However, operators of the district don’t predict any loss in overall service. But some frequent callers may not be rushed to a hospital emergency room through a traditional ambulance run like they have in the past, and instead, may be serviced by paramedics or a partnering health care provider, or even transported to a physician’s office, in an effort to reduce costs.
Last week, in a move that generated concerns from a few residents and raised a bevy of questions, the Teller County Commissioners approved an amended service plan of the Ute Pass Regional Ambulance District (UPRAD). Under the new plan, the group will be called the Ute Pass Regional Health Service District, a designation that allows it to form a Community Paramedic/Mobile Integrated Healthcare Service and partner with many entities in the region, such as Teller County Health, Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, Prospect Home Care and Hospice and Mountain View Medical Group.
Tim Dienst, chief executive director of the ambulance district, described the change as a necessary move to adapt to the new realities associated with the Affordable Care Act, requiring more collaboration with health care providers and in dealing with serious fiscal challenges.
“If we do absolutely nothing, it ‘ant’ going to work,” said Dienst, in spelling out the financial realities facing Ute Pass Ambulance. “If we don’t change, we are in trouble.” With the Affordable Care Act, often referred to as Obamacare, Dienst said the district has received a bombardment in Medicare/Medicaid patients and fewer callers who have traditional insurance. As a result, this means less reimbursement for the ambulance district from paying customers. The district only receives a small percentage of reimbursement from Medicaid/Medicare patients.
“We believe we can decrease costs,”’ said Dienst. He cited a health service district as a promising model, with the prospects of reducing the costs of ambulance transports, which typically average close to $2,000 per patient, per call within the district area. And this involves a transport to a hospital emergency room, when such an outlet or an expensive transport may not be required.
Dienst also cautioned that this idea may not work and the district may have to explore other options. But he didn’t express much optimism in other choices, such as cutting services or trying to raise taxes.
His plan raised a few questions from the commissioners, who wanted to make sure the change wouldn’t impact ambulance service, or alter the intent of a previous mill levy increase. Commissioner Norm Steen asked how the fiscal math would work under the new plan.
Dienst believes services could be improved, with lower costs through a health service district. “We can look to be more flexible,” said Dienst. “It allows us other opportunities.” Currently, he said the district can’t really offer many alternatives from that of providing high cost ambulance runs to hospital emergency service rooms. In addition, he said the district has already started working with a number of local entities in the region.
“This is only going to get worse,” said Commissioner Dave Paul, in explaining the financial dilemma facing UPRAD and other emergency service groups. “This is a good way to address it.”
However, several residents who attended the hearing weren’t overly impressed and see the plan leading to more taxes and a reduction in services, with the prospects of no available ambulances when a person calls for an emergency. “We need a viable ambulance service,” said Danelle Kinne, who lives in Guffey. She raised a red flag over adding more services and sees the ambulance district having to impose more taxes to make ends meet. She worries that the UPRAD won’t be able to function as an ambulance district with the change.
J.R. Morin of Woodland Park accused the commissioners of subsidizing a private company by amending the service plan. “They are becoming a for-profit enterprise, and as such, UPRAD or whatever name they choose, should stand on its own without tax support,” said Morin. He requested that the name change be submitted to the voters.
However, both Dienst and Paul cautioned that the ambulance group is a special district and actually serves as a government entity, and isn’t a private for-profit company. Dienst stressed that the new proposed plan would allow the district to do business in a more cost-efficient way and to save taxpayer money. Question, though, still persist over the specifics of the alternative transport services for ambulance callers. Besides Teller, the new service plan change must be approved by elected leaders of Park and Douglas counties.
With its new designation, Dienst doesn’t foresee any personnel changes. The ambulance district currently operates with a five-person crew on a 24/7 basis. But he said the district would add a community paramedic.
Dienst also is in the process of actively lobbying both state and federal officials to find a way to generate more revenue for the service calls they provide.