Gas prices blamed for increased ambulance rates

Climbing fuel prices are driving up the costs of ambulance services.

TLC Medical Transportation Services Inc. and TLC Emergency Medical Services Inc. announced this week that they have increased rates for basic and advanced life support ambulance services for private pay customers, the result of skyrocketing diesel fuel costs that hovered around $4.25 a gallon Friday according to gasbuddy.com.

"It isn't something we wanted to do," said TLC President David J. Butler. "But we must earn a living and meet our cost of doing business, so we had no choice but to raise rates."

TLC Director of Operations Lon Fricano said the base rate for advanced life support ambulance services through TLC is now $835, up from $715. The cost of basic life support in a TLC ambulance is now $525, previously $495, he said, and the per-mile cost has gone up a quarter from $12 to $12.25.

Those rates will be felt by the uninsured who pay out-of-pocket for medical care, and those customers whose heath insurance might not cover ambulance service. Medicare and Medicaid clients who use TLC services will not experience raised rates, because the cost to those customers is controlled by the federal and state governments.

Maintaining an optimal temperature within the cabin of an ambulance requires the vehicles to almost constantly consume fuel, magnifying the impact of rising fuel costs.

On top of gas prices, government-mandated but expensive upgrades to ambulance fleets and strict regulations dictate how ambulance providers are able to absorb price changes, Fricano said.

Unlike many businesses, ambulance service providers can't change their business models to adjust for changing costs. The only solution, industry-wide, is to pass the costs on to customers.

"No one should be denied an ambulance," Fricano said. "You've got to treat people whether they can pay or not, and we're happy to do that. Everybody gets treated the same."

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