Stanislaus Consolidated may start billing insurance companies and even the people it helps when its firefighters respond to car crashes, medical emergencies and other calls.
The fire protection district’s board is scheduled to hold a workshop Thursday to discuss this proposal. And the board is scheduled to decide at a meeting after the workshop whether to start charging for these services as well as hiring Fire Recovery USA to bill and collect them.
A district staff report and supporting documentation give little guidance on who would be responsible for the bills. But the charges could be steep, including $677 for responding to a car fire to $6,608 for an advanced level response to a hazmat call.
This proposal comes as Modesto will investigate whether it will bill insurance companies when its firefighters respond to emergency medical calls, such as heart attacks or people injured in car crashes. Fire Chief Alan Ernst discussed the proposal at last week’s City Council budget workshop.
Ernst stressed the proposal is in its very early stages and more research is needed. But he estimated it might bring in $1 million annually. The proposal is expected to receive more public discussion at a council committee meeting. Ernst said he does not support Modesto billing the people who received services if insurance does not pay or they do not have insurance.
A Consolidated board resolution states the district would bill insurance companies in most cases involving nonmedical calls subject to the charges: “A claim for such services ... shall be filed to the responsible party(s) through their insurance carrier. In some circumstances, the responsible party(s) will be billed directly.”
The resolution and staff report do not say why or when someone would be billed directly and what the district would do if insurance or the person refused to pay.
The resolution also says that for emergency medical services, a “claim for such services ... shall be filed with the responsible party(s),” but does not state whether that person or his insurance is responsible for the bill.
“These are questions that the board needs to clarify,” said board member David Woods. “I have serious questions (and) concerns.” Other board members did not respond to requests for comment or could not be reached Friday.
Acting Fire Chief Michael Wapnowski declined to comment on the proposal’s specifics but said these questions will be addressed at the workshop and encouraged the public to attend.
Officials say more California fire agencies are sending out bills for services. This comes as local governments are feeling pinched by rising costs, with pension costs among the most pressing. But critics say local governments already collect taxes and assessments to pay for fire protection.
Board members took the proposal up at an April 12 public hearing but postponed making a decision because they did not believe the district had done enough outreach, according to Woods. The hearing attracted one member of the public, and an email from another.
The staff report estimates that charging for some services could bring in about $332,000 annually. (The fire protection district’s annual operating budget is $14.7 million.) An exhibit to the report provided some typical charges that could be billed, including:
▪ $487 to $677 for what the exhibit called “motor vehicle incidents,” based on the level of service; the district also could charge $1,461 if firefighters have to use heavy-duty rescue tools and other devices to free someone trapped in a car
▪ $784 to $6,608 for responding to a hazardous materials call
▪ $448 per hour for a fire engine and $560 per hour for a firetruck for responding to what the exhibit called an “illegal fire,” such as starting a fire without a permit when a permit is required
▪ $448 to $2,240 to respond to a “water incident” plus $56 per hour for each firefighter
▪ $261 for emergency medical services calls involving basic life support and advanced life support
Consolidated provides fire protection in Riverbank, Oakdale, east Modesto, Empire, Waterford, La Grange and Hickman. The staff report says the district is considering charging for some calls in order to recover costs that its annual fire assessment does not cover.
The board will meet at Station 26 — 3318 Tokeka St. in Riverbank — at 5 p.m. for the workshop. The regular meeting starts at 6 p.m.