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Clinton County first responders celebrate passage of cost recovery law

Published: May. 13, 2022 at 4:52 PM EDT
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ALTONA, N.Y (WCAX) - First responders in New York’s North Country are celebrating following a decades-long push to allow them to bill insurers for the calls they respond to.

The Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery Act has loomed over lawmakers in Albany for decades, but it never found its way into the governor’s budget until now. The legislation allows volunteer fire stations and districts to bill insurance companies for ambulance services.

“It’s pretty darn unfair not to do it,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay Lake. “This is a public safety measure.”

The bill will impact departments across the state but rural areas are the ones that could benefit the most. In some cases, rural departments have had to shut down their ambulance services for lack of funding.

“We figured that out and we’ll get you an ambulance but chances are it comes from further away, which is a reduced level of care for those folks that are in need,” said Eric Day with Clinton County Office of Emergency Services.

In Altona, the fire department’s budget is around $700,000 with $500,000 going to ambulance costs. “Many times the high cost of the ambulance service came as a detriment to our firefighting service, who is forced to use old gear, old equipment, and outdated vehicles,” said Ryan Blondo, chair of the Altona Board of Fire Commissioners.

The volunteers that staff the department would host fundraisers to pay for the fixes needed to equipment but would still come up short. “If they can’t afford the equipment by doing that, they need to get it some other, so they go to the local taxpayers,” Jones said.

Altona says with the passing of this bill they will recoup an estimated $100,000 to $200,000 annually. Jones says it’s estimated that revenues will hit the $100 million mark in just a few years statewide with $3 million saved in his district alone.

“Our financial future can be more secure and we can invest in the safety of our community,” Blondo said.

Starting in June, the law will allow volunteer fire departments to bill all insurance providers, including Medicare and Medicaid.

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