Quirks of the County Blog

Tuesday, May 20 2014 01:38 PM

Supervisors approve sharp ambulance rate hikes

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    In this file photo, a young child and the driver of the vehicle in the background were taken to the hospital by Hall Ambulance personnel after the vehicle went off Highway 178 in the eastbound lane near Mount Vernon Avenue. The vehicle went down a hill, crashed through a chain link fence and landed upside down on Stark Street in east Bakersfield.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

An ambulance ride in nearly all of Kern County will cost substantially more after Tuesday.

County supervisors on Tuesday approved substantial rate increases for Hall Ambulance and Liberty Ambulance -- the two companies that have exclusive rights to serve most of the county.

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Supervisors also approved a small complex of triplexes off Manor Drive.

Neighbors of the project objected to having multi-family homes near their single family residences and opposed allowing the developer to use an alley as the primary access to the triplex complex.

Billy Joe Sheets argued that allowing the development would violate the property rights that should have been protected by the Metropolitan Bakersfield General Plan.

Supervisors, however, ruled that with some improvements to the alley and some fencing the project would be worth having.

The county, Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said, needs to approve a diverse selection of housing and fill in empty parcels of land in the city's center.

Hall Ambulance basic life support and advanced life support rates will increase by $311 to $1,420 a trip. Its advanced life support base rate -- the one paid by people whose lives are in danger -- will go up $345 to $1,660.

In total, the cost of an average Hall Ambulance trip will go up around 16 percent, county officials told the board.

That's substantial because Hall Ambulance is the only service most county patients can use.

Delano Ambulance serves the cities of Delano and McFarland and a strip of territory that runs east and west along the northern border the county.

Liberty Ambulance serves the Indian Wells Valley, Ridgecrest and the Kern River Valley areas.

All other communities are handled by Hall Ambulance.

Liberty's rate increases were also approved Tuesday.

The company's basic life support rate went up $300 to $1,550 and its advanced life support rate went up by $350 to $1,958.

An independent consultant analyzed the rate requests for the county. It recommended the rates approved Tuesday and based them on such things as economic indicators, a market survey of other ambulance operations and the actual costs the companies are incurring.

The supervisors approved the increases with little discussion. The vote was 4-0, with Supervisor Mick Gleason abstaining because a relative works for Liberty Ambulance.

Delano Ambulance is also preparing to ask for a rate increase -- a request that can only be made every five years.

Larry Moxley, speaking for Hall Ambulance, said the increase has to be so high because only a small portion of Hall's customers pay the full price of the services Hall provides.

Most passengers are either unable to pay their bill or are on Medi-Cal, which pays only a portion of Hall's costs, he said.

People with private insurance have to pay more to cover the costs, Moxley said, because only "17.5 percent of our payor mix is funding the emergency response system in Kern County."

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