If you are in an area covered by Fort Wright Fire/EMS Department, you may be looking at increased fees in the future.
During their May meeting, Fort Wright City Council conducted a first reading of the ordinance, which proposes to “[amend] the fee schedule for emergency medical and transportation services.”
At the meeting, Mayor Dave Hatter relayed that the city was proposing to raise fees in order to recoup funds required to operate and maintain their fire department. He also said that this ordinance aims to offset the costs to the taxpayers.
Fire Chief Stephen Schewe explained, in an email to LINK, how this plan came to be.
“So in consultation with our third party billing company, I was made aware that our fees were slipping behind what other agencies were charging. And with the increase in our costs, I made the city manager aware and asked if we should bring this information forward to the mayor and City Council. Together, we felt it needed to be considered and since it had been five years since it was adjusted, it was certainly time to consider it.”
Budget data shows that Fort Wright’s Fire Department has had increased cost over at least the last 3 years.
The total general fund expenditures for this department in the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year was $1,789,666.68. This is a 4% increase from the 2020-2021 Fiscal Year’s total costs. The budgeted total costs for this 2022-2023 Fiscal Year is a 4% increase from the 2021-2022 Fiscal Year at $1,863,473,95. Evidently, costs are rising and have been doing so steadily over the last three years.
The table below compares Fort Wright’s Fire Department budget to the Fire Department budgets of surrounding cities in the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year.
2018 is the last time the Fort Wright EMS fee schedule was amended. The table below shows how the schedule of fees was changed by Ordinance 14-2018.
Chief Schewe says that fees could have been easily raised before now.
“We adjusted them in 2018 and we feel five years is absolutely too long to look at them given the rapidly growing cost of things.” Going forward, they plan to evaluate the fee schedule “annually and adjust as needed.”
This “rapidly growing cost of things” is reflected in EMS Departments across the nation.
According to the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, EMS costs have increased, on average, 8% from 2019 to 2022. Wages, equipment, and supplies make up a large portion of these increases. Costs are anticipated to continue to rise over the next three years.
In their 2023 survey of EMS departments, NAEMT also explained that the rising costs are not being compensated by “increases in reimbursements from Medicare, Medicaid or commercial insurers or from increases in local and state funding.”
Fluctuations in the market have also had an impact on EMS costs. This is exhibited in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services amending their own payment policies to correspond “to the percentage increase in the consumer price index for all [ . . . ] consumers[.]” The result of that equation is referred to as the “Ambulance Inflation Factor” (AIF), which, in 2023, is at its highest point in the last 20 years at 8.7%. This is a stark increase from the 2022 AIF of 5.1%, making this “the single largest year-over-year increase on record.”
In Fort Wright, the proposed new fee schedule would apply only to emergency and non-emergency services related to medicine and transportation. The city’s mileage rate for oxygen use has stayed the same, as has its rate for defibrillation, extrication, and use of bag-valve-mask.
The table below shows the amended fees proposed by Ordinance 04-2023.
Section 96.01 in Fort Wright’s Code of Ordinances requires that “everybody who uses any emergency medical or transportation services [ . . . ] pay[s] a reasonable fee therefor.” However, it also stipulates that “any Fort Wright resident or persons that pay license or payroll fees to the city shall be exempt from paying any fees not covered by insurance.”
That means that people who are helped by Fort Wright EMS, but are not Fort Wright citizens, would be required to pay those fees not covered by insurance. This is especially relevant to Fort Wright due to the number of “mutual aid” calls they receive.
“Mutual aid” refers to when a call for emergency medical services is put out and the first responders of the city the emergency occurs in are immediately unavailable. So, the city calls for outside help from EMS departments of neighboring cities in order to get help to a person in need as soon as possible.
Mayor Dave Hatter calls the Fire Department a necessary, but “very expensive operation” and states that Fort Wright provides “much of [its] services to people outside the city.”
In the first three months of 2023, Fort Wright Fire/EMS was dispatched to cities requesting mutual aid a total of 49 times.
The next reading of Ordinance 04-2023 is anticipated to take place during the June 7 City Council Meeting.