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Amsterdam, NY ,

Ambulance corps defends policy to charge for service

Thursday, January 06, 2011 - Updated: 8:51 AM


Recorder News Staff

BROADALBIN -- Broadalbin Volunteer Ambulance Corps President Lisa Weiderman-Pfeiffer said Wednesday the $12,000 contribution it receives from the town is used to offset, not solely fund, the service's $100,000 budget.

Still, Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo said the town will investigate BVAC's books to find out exactly what the town's contribution funds if the corps charges patients for services.

"Is our $12,000 a small portion of their budget? Honestly, I have no idea what their budget looks like," DiGiacomo said. "I think they have to justify why we're giving them money if they're charging people."

Weiderman-Pfeiffer said BVAC charges whatever insurance providers patients have, including private insurance companies, and Medicare and Medicaid, which are funded by taxpayer dollars at both the state and federal level.

"A perception could be it's double-dipping, but that's not the case. We're not part of the tax base, like the fire department is. Taxpayers pay for fire service, that's why the fire department doesn't bill people when they come to their homes for service," she said.

But the town contributes funds annually; its government driven by taxes.

Weiderman-Pfeiffer said BVAC started charging for services in September 2008 "partially" because of the increased costs associated with running the service.

"Donations were down substantially. When it comes to fundraising, we're so strapped for time as it is that efforts became daunting. Basically, in order for us to survive, our goal was to grow and make a better service for our community," she said.

Weiderman-Pfeiffer said BVAC's budget increased from $27,000 to more than $100,000 "in a very short period of time." She attributed the increase to upgrading from basic-life support to advanced-life support services, and that the town "forced" BVAC to start paying for workman's compensation insurance in 2007.

"Even that aside, it's very expensive to operate an ambulance corps," she said.

BVAC hosted two public meetings before it started billing patients, Weiderman-Pfeiffer said, "and if my recollection is correct, none of [the council] attended."

The Amsterdam Common Council stopped giving GAVAC a $5,000 contribution toward its operating expenses shortly after the ambulance corps started charging patients for services.

Amsterdam 4th Ward Councilman William Wills, a former GAVAC volunteer, said the ambulance corps started charging patients in order to start paying volunteers so the service would be staffed during the day, when most volunteers were at work.

"The council asked, 'Why should we be giving you $5,000 when you're charging?' And then they stopped," he said.



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