Emergency responders across New Jersey are facing an emergency of their own.

They’re finding it increasingly difficult to maintain operations because they are frequently paid only a small percentage of their actual costs to transport someone needing medical care in an ambulance.

According to Greg Scott, the president of the Medical Transportation Association of New Jersey, when an ambulance squad picks up someone covered under Medicaid and brings them to the hospital the payment is a flat fee of $58 plus $1.50 per mile.

It's not nearly enough, they say

“This rate hasn’t been increased since 1994, that’s 28 years, it’s roughly 7 to 8 times below our cost,” he said.

He pointed out by comparison, Medicare pays a $450 reimbursement fee and $9 per mile for the exact same service.

“Essentially the New Jersey rate is 13% of what Medicare pays us on the load fee alone, it’s woefully inadequate.”

In response, the New Jersey State Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee has greenlighted a measure that would raise the reimbursement rate to $200 per emergency ambulance transport.

An ambulance responds to the scene of an emergency.
MattGush GettyImages

EMS service ain't cheap

Scott said the real cost of EMS response is in its readiness.

“The ambulance note is paid for, the insurance is paid, the unit is stocked, fueled, maintained mechanically, equipped and staffed, and the payroll clock is ticking while we are ready and waiting for the next emergency call,” he said.

He said during a typical shift an EMS crew will respond to many kinds of emergencies including ‘“drug or alcohol abuse calls, homeless sick person calls, psychiatric calls, and somebody that may just not have any insurance, all most likely no reimbursement situations.”

“There is a payer for an EMS response, it’s better to have a reasonable reimbursement from government and other healthcare payers that help offset for the uncompensated care we provide," he said.

Comstock GettyImages
Comstock GettyImages

Help for everyone

Scott noted many New Jersey municipalities must help to financially support their emergency squads in order for them to survive.

He was quick to point out that when people are in need EMS units will absolutely respond, regardless of the ability to pay.

He said efforts to raise the EMS response reimbursement rate are much appreciated and desperately needed.

“New Jersey is quite possibly the lowest reimbursement in the nation, and we have some of the highest costs including property taxes and insurance, etc.”

He also pointed out there is a statewide shortage of EMS workers but current crewmembers stay on the job “because we are caregivers and that’s what we do, and that’s what we do well and our hearts are in it.”

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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