FireMed benefits to change

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District is changing the way the FireMed program works this year because subscription fees no longer cover the cost of providing the program.

The annual subscription rate will remain $50 per household, but the program will now cover 50 percent of the cost of an ambulance trip instead of 100 percent.

“Since FireMed started back in the mid ’80s, it’s been a 100-percent benefit for people,” said Fire Chief Mike Beaver. Anyone enrolled in FireMed who was transported would pay nothing for the trip. The department would still bill insurance companies, but whatever the insurance company paid, the patient had no further obligation. If the patient had no insurance, the ambulance trip would be written off completely.

Excess funds raised by the FireMed program helped pay for operational costs.

The initial price for FireMed was $35 per year. It only increased once, by $15, Beaver said. “We are losing money on FireMed now. We’re writing off more than we’re taking with FireMed subscriptions.”

When the department started the program, insurance deductibles were as low as $25 or $50, said Diane Shank, administrative assistant. Deductibles have grown to the point that insurance companies are not paying at all for ambulance trips, which cost between $1,000 to $1,200 for a trip to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital in Lebanon, the most common destination.

“We’re writing off bills that are too big too many times,” Shank said.

Medicare is “giving us practically nothing,” Beaver said.

The write-offs are driving the new plan, he said.

Under the new arrangement, patients will pay half of whatever cost is outstanding, Beaver said. The Fire and Ambulance District will continue to seek payment from insurance companies. Fire Med subscribers will pay half of whatever the insurance companies don’t cover.

Fire districts around the state have been having the same problem, and they’ve looked at different solutions, Beaver said. Lebanon Fire District is going to the same type of plan. Albany is increasing its price, something Sweet Home looked at.

“With the way the economy is, people are looking at every option they have to not lose money on everything,” Beaver said.

The department transports about 20 percent of its FireMed subscription holders each year, Beaver said. The program usually has between 1,400 and 1,500 members. It will send out about 1,800 reminders this year.

“We would prefer not to stop the program,” Beaver said. “But we need to break even on it. This change is necessary just to continue our service at the level it is now.”