Written by Jerry Engler Tuesday, 06 October 2009 13:28
Let’s say you’re unemployed with no health insurance and aren’t feeling well.
So, you call the ambulance service to get a health professional to come evaluate you, and maybe receive some minor care.
When the ambulance comes, you refuse to let the crew take you to a hospital because you don’t want to incur the cost. After all, free care was why you called them.
Or, suppose you’re involved in a traffic accident but don’t believe you’ve been hurt. You don’t want your insurance premium to increase, and you don’t want to pay for an ambulance to take you to a hospital.
So, you turn down the emergency medical technicians when they offer to transport you to the emergency room.
Both of these situations are what ambulance services call “no transports” and are a growing problem when it comes to the financial stability of Marion County Emergency Medical Services.
Steve Smith, EMS director, said no-transport calls have risen from 115 this time last year to 154 in 2009. He said since his department has made only 1,100 ambulance runs to date, the frequency of no-transports are “pretty significant.”
“They are of no costs to the patrons involved, but it can get pretty costly for us—$50 just for the crew (per run), $10 a mile for the vehicle, plus wear and tear on the ambulance, depending on where they go.”
Smith said an ambulance run in predominantly rural Marion County can be as short as a block or two, or easily up to 40 miles round-trip—even with services located strategically throughout the county.
People who are transported by ambulance for events ranging from cardiovascular crises to falls are expected to pay for that service either out of pocket, through their health insurance, or through Medicare.
Smith said people who decide not to be transported because they feel OK at the moment and don’t want to drive up insurance costs can be making a serious health mistake.
Smith said symptoms can emerge six to eight hours later in the form of nausea or headaches. The shock of the accident may have masked the pain of a fracture or even a spinal injury that could result in something as serious as paralysis.
“It can be pretty dangerous,” he said. “They can end up a paraplegic.”
Smith said that as a general rule, if someone was shifted or thrown as little as 18 inches in an auto accident—even if they were in a safety belt—they most probably have spinal injuries.
The no-transports keep driving up the cost to make an ambulance call, “and we have to try to make it up somewhere,” Smith said.
“Yet, we would rather be on the safe side, and be there if there appears to be a possible need,” he added. “It’s always best to get it checked out and cover the bases.”
The no-transport issue isn’t a Marion County phenomenon. The Kansas EMS Web site is alert to the situation occurring all over the state. Officials blame the economy.
“I think there are a lot of people unemployed, laid off, who have lost their health insurance, and are looking for a quick fix for their health needs,” Smith said.
“Just getting a health professional to look at them for a moment can make a difference for them.”