The City Council has given preliminary approval of a new fee structure for emergency medical services and ambulance rides.
EMS services have been subsidized by the city, and the volunteer fire department has been partially supported by a monthly donation on residents’ water bills. Under the recommendation of a subcommittee last year, it is moving toward a system where some services will result in a fee charged to the user, most of which will likely be covered through insurance, officials said.
“I cannot emphasize enough that this is not a situation where the service is free and now it’s costing something. It always cost something. The differentiation at this point is that we are no longer placing the entirety of this burden on our taxpayers; it is now being shared by the insurance companies,” City Manager Morad Kabiri said.
Kabiri estimates that residents will pay roughly $600-$700 out of pocket for ambulance services, depending on the situation and the user’s insurance.
Historically, the city of Friendswood’s ambulance services are handled through the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department and with other paid employees. As the population increased and the number of volunteers has diminished, the city has had to contract outside agencies to help handle the load. Unlike the volunteer department, the outside agencies would bill citizens for services, Kabiri said.
“If there were two EMS calls to go out simultaneously, then one resident would get a free ride and the other one would not, and so it has led to an inequity,” Kabiri said. “We found that over 92 percent or 93 percent of our citizens have insurance, so at the end of the day it’s been the insurance companies that have gotten a break.”
If the fee structure is finally approved at the December meeting, the city would begin billing for ambulance services in January. Officials project $400,000 in revenue from these services in the first year. The annual cost of providing emergency services is $1.8 million, with $600,000 in ambulance services, Kabiri said.
The city receives $230,000 per year in donations to its volunteer fire department, which offsets some of the costs of service, but Kabiri said he is worried that that residents will no longer donate once they are billed. Donations will still be necessary to reimburse the city, City Council Member Robert Griffon said.
“This isn’t a panacea. It’s not going to cover all of our costs,” Griffon said. “It’s really important that even though we are billing, our residents are donating on that contribution on our billing for our water and sewer.”
The city will host a town hall in December to discuss this with the citizens as well.