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L.A. council panel backs 37% hike in ambulance fees

A Los Angeles City Council panel backed a proposed ordinance Monday that would raise ambulance fees by 37% starting July 1, the first of several strategies for passing the city’s budget woes on to consumers.

The proposal would increase the transportation fee for basic life support ambulances from $712 to $974. Those ambulances typically respond to less critical emergencies, city officials said.

Fees for advanced life support ambulances, which allow paramedics to provide treatment for major emergencies, would increase from $1,004 to $1,373. The city also charges $15.75 per mile for ambulance transportation.

Councilman Dennis Zine, who favored the proposal, said the higher ambulance fees are needed to allow the city to cover the full cost of its emergency response system. “Costs have increased, and this is all part of that,” he said.

How much ambulance patients would actually pay depends on their insurance or what healthcare service they have, Fire Department officials said. For example, the federal Medicare program pays $388 for basic ambulance service and $467 for an advanced life support ambulance, Battalion Chief Ronnie Villanueva said in an e-mail.

Medi-Cal, a state program for low-income people, pays $126 per ambulance trip and $3.51 per mile. Once Medicare and Medi-Cal have made their payments, the city is prohibited by law from seeking the remainder of the bill from the patient.

However, if a private insurer fails to cover the full cost, the patient would be billed for the balance, officials said.

“Those who do not pay within the time limitations will now be sent to collections,” Villanueva said.

The new fees, which won the support of the council’s Public Safety Committee, would generate $6 million for the Fire Department in the coming year, according to city officials.

The proposal comes less than two years after the council increased fees for basic life support ambulances from $622 to $712. That vote, which took place in October 2008, also increased fees for advanced life support ambulances from $889 to $1,004.

The latest ambulance plan is expected to reach the council in the next week.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the council have come up a series of other fee increases for the coming budget year as part of their effort to close a $485-million gap. Dog and cat licenses are slated to increase from $15 to $20. Parking fines are scheduled to go up by $5 for an array of violations, which can cost anywhere from $45 to $80.

Late fees for unpaid parking tickets are expected to go up by $15.

Hours after the ambulance vote, two other council committees weighed a plan that would reduce the number of DASH and Commuter Express bus lines. Although one panel deadlocked on the proposal, a second agreed to double DASH fares from 25 cents to 50 cents per trip.

Mid-City resident Yuval Kramer, who showed up for the committee debate, spoke out against the cuts and said the council should save some bus services by increasing DASH fares to $1 over the next year.

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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