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Residents question Great Neck ambulance billing change

Great Neck Vigilant Engine & Hook and Ladder

Great Neck Vigilant Engine & Hook and Ladder Company members Aaron Hale, left; president Philip Katz; Robert Lincoln; Christopher Kawik; and Steve Trachtman on Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Great Neck. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Residents last night questioned the need for a proposed change for the Great Neck Vigilant Engine and Hook and Ladder Company that would mean billing health insurance companies directly for ambulance calls, a potential shift in how the company has operated for 80 years.

At a public meeting yesterday hosted by Vigilant, many community members expressed support for the company and its current billing system. Vigilant, which offers both fire and ambulance services, sends annual bills to the villages it covers on the Great Neck peninsula, including Kings Point and Saddle Rock. Residents calling ambulances are not charged. This year’s budget for the ambulance services for the entire peninsula and some other areas of the town is $862,893.

Vigilant officials say they are exploring the new billing system at the suggestion of several village mayors, who have said the change would save money.

Fire company officials have retained attorney Brad Pinsky of Syracuse for a $12,000 yearlong contract to study the billing change. This would require splitting the company into separate operations — one for firefighting, one for ambulance services — officials said.

Under state general municipal law, fire companies are not allowed to bill insurers.

Pinsky said a new billing system could produce mixed results such as increased paperwork for EMS staff and reduced taxes for residents.

Several residents expressed concerns such as insurers possibly limiting coverage for ambulance calls, ultimately making residents hesitant to call 911. “What the mayors thought would be so simple is not so,” said resident Jean Pierce. “Ultimately it is up to the residents to decide.“

David Weiss, chairman of Vigilant’s board of trustees, said many questions needed to be answered. “Is it really worth it, in essence, to break up the fire department?” Weiss asked. “The long-term effect is unknown.”

For the average homeowner, about $140 in taxes funds emergency medical services, Vigilant officials said. Several ambulance companies on Long Island bill insurers directly, including Commack Ambulance Corps, which was previously funded by annual municipal contracts and switched over to the new system in 2015.

Michael Mastrianni Jr., of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance & Rescue Association, said more companies statewide were billing insurers, due to municipal budget pressures, rising EMS costs, and rising service calls.

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