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Supervisors to Vote on Rate Increase for Ambulance Service

Times Staff Writer

While considering a bureaucratic shuffle in the supervision of county-contract ambulance companies, Los Angeles County supervisors Thursday also agreed to vote soon on a little-opposed plan to allow steep rate increases in ambulance services to the public.

The cost of a basic ambulance trip would jump from $109.50 to $151.

The recommendations also call for a more modest increase in the maximum fee ambulance companies can charge patients for “advanced life support” or paramedic services--from an average $235 to $252 per trip. Meanwhile, the added charge for services between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. would double from $16.75 to $36.

No objections to the proposed rate increases were raised at Thursday’s public hearing, and county officials said they expected little opposition when the issue goes before the board next Tuesday for an expected vote.

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“This is really a catch-up, if you will, to get us closer to the state median,” said Francis Dowling, director of the office of contracting and management for the Health Services Department, who added that previous rate increases have largely reflected the cost of living.

New Law Proposed

At the same time, the department is recommending that the two dozen ambulance companies affected by the proposed change meet minimum response times, making compliance a matter of law rather than just a clause in a contract.

“Before, we had no standards and no teeth in our enforcement,” Dowling said. “There was nothing we could do (to violators) on a regular basis.”

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Under a proposed ordinance, the county could suspend and revoke the licenses of companies that do not meet the minimum response times in more than 10% of their calls. It would apply to companies operating in unincorporated county territory as well as 61 cities that do not have their own ambulance services. Cities such as Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and 22 other cities would be unaffected by the proposal.

Ambulance operators who appeared Thursday said they backed the response-time requirements and the proposed rate increases.

Ambulance companies, however, may have to pay a lot more to obtain an operator and vehicle license from the county under a related proposal before the board. That proposal calls for the first-year cost of an operator’s license to jump from $495 to $990 while the cost of permits for each vehicle would nearly triple--from $72 to $200.

Despite the stiff increase, Jim Decker, president of Crippen Ambulance Service Inc. in Covina, said most operators will accept the increase because it would mean shifting county supervision of ambulance operations from the Business License Commission to the Health Services Department.

Both Decker and Don Pruner of Pruner Health Services Inc. had harsh words for the commission, contending that the five-member body has failed to adequately administer the ambulance program, resulting, at times, in a yearlong delay in obtaining required licenses. They argued that the health services agency, which already regulates trauma-network ambulance services, should take over the licensing and disciplining duties. The money from added fees would be used to pay for extra staff members.


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