Fritz Ackerman: The hard facts about “soft billing”

The unknown can really make a guy edgy — a girl, too — for that matter. So it was when a few years ago the unfamiliar idea of so-called “soft billing” came before our township Board. It was described as a method whereby patients transported in Jefferson Township rescue squads would pay for such emergency transportation in order to defray the costs of that service.

Initially, we officials were open to the idea of charging fees to non-residents, transients, etc., for medical transports in cases where our equipment and personnel provided emergency care to these “strangers” who became ill or injured within the township or village. However, we trustees and our fire department officials were adamant that never — read that NEVER! would local taxpayers be expected to pay for ambulance transport because, duh… our local taxes were already providing those services.

Several years ago we trustees, at the encouragement of the fire department, tried soft billing these non-residents. But for several convergent reasons, this fund recouping measure never produced the revenue expected, and in fact fell far below projections.

Without making your eyes glaze over with meticulous details, let’s do a “soft billing” scenario: Let’s say a Cleveland visitor to the Bellville Fair overdoes it on funnel cake and keels over. The faithful Jefferson Township rescue squad transports this patient to Med Central, attending to him and obtaining his signature and other info to affirm that he was, indeed, transported at our taxpayer expense. His personal info is passed on, along with a detailed record of services rendered, to a billing agency which then submits a bill to fatty’s insurance company, who may or may not pay depending on Mr. Funnel Cake’s coverage.

If Mr. Cake’s insurance doesn’t pay, the billing firm sends him a statement, often without powdered sugar. Finally, Mr. Cake may choose to pay up; if not, at this point, we trustees may choose to pursue him for the debt, or more likely, just write it off as noncollectable. This kinder, gentler approach is the “soft” part of soft billing. It is also the customary gentle approach taken when patients are uninsured, destitute, whatever…

Now comes the part where we officials seek your input as to how—and whether— to incorporate soft billing in our village/township under current circumstances. Where earlier, the idea of local billing, soft or not, was repugnant to our Board, now it becomes more palatable for several reasons. First, rescue squad runs are increasing dramatically, exceeding 500 runs a year! This simply means more fuel, wear and tear on machines; but more importantly, on the volunteer men and women whom we too often take for granted in their self sacrifice in caring for our emergency needs. How often they have missed dinners, family events, or a good night’s sleep, that we ourselves may sleep soundly and well.

More to this: For years, opinions have varied as to how long the spirit of volunteerism may reasonably be expected to last, given economic and demographic changes in the community. Add to this the ongoing need to upgrade equipment while still operating on existing tax money you have provided to fund the day-to-day struggles of one of the finest fire departments in Ohio.

Has the time come to seriously consider soft billing township and village residents for medical transport? For several reasons we believe it has. First, understand that any billing for such service would bill your insurance ONLY; you would receive no bill whatsoever, only an EOB (Explanation of Benefits) informing you that your bill was paid, and in what amount, etc. This next is important: If your insurance does not pay, you will hear no more. No bills, no dunning, no collection calls…nothing. No bad credit reports, etc.

Another fact supporting local soft billing is that most, if not all, surrounding fire departments are doing it, and it is astonishing how lucrative it has become, offsetting rising costs dramatically. Example: It yields around $60,000 a year for Monroe Township (Lucas). Yearly projections for our area approach $100,000; again, these amounts would be collected from insurance, Medicare/Medicaid, not your billfold. If it generates just half that expectation with no out-of-pocket cost to you and I, it’s surely worth a roll of the dice to try it. And it can be discontinued anytime if it proves unsuccessful.

Specifically who else would be affected (not “impacted!” Don’t ever use impact as a verb even though you hear it done wrongly everyday!) by soft billing? Obviously residents within the village and township are subject to its coverage, but those non-residents employed within our boundaries also benefit.

This is the kind of simplified overview of a new subject that appeals to me, and, it is to be hoped, to you too. Sure, there is the usual legalese and procedural fine print, but nothing to be feared. I see little in soft billing to lose and much to be gained. Further info is readily available from Fire Chief Zach Carlin.

By Fritz Ackerman Special to the Bellville Star Courtesy photo Fritz Ackerman is a Jefferson Township Trustee Fritz Ackerman Special to the Bellville Star Courtesy photo Fritz Ackerman is a Jefferson Township Trustee