Patchogue Ambulance Company located at 336 West Main Street. (March...

Patchogue Ambulance Company located at 336 West Main Street. (March 2, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

There may soon come a day when Patchogue residents call for an ambulance -- and the village will no longer pay the bill.

Officials are mulling a proposal to bill each patient's insurance company for ambulance calls, instead of relying on village taxes to pay for its crews.

"We pay half a million dollars," Mayor Paul Pontieri said. "If there's a way to lessen the number by those who are insured to pay for their ambulance calls, we should look into it."

Pontieri said an average ambulance call costs about $300 to $400, though other ambulance companies said costs depend on services rendered.

Patchogue ambulance chairman John Rocco said while the proposal is preliminary and the company has "a lot more homework," he expects the village would save by billing insurers. "It's money we're leaving with the insurance companies. They're not paying out for the service, so it's borne on the back of taxpayers," he said.

The Port Jefferson ambulance company adopted the insurance billing model for Belle Terre and Port Jefferson about 18 months ago. The savings for the two villages have been significant, said Rob Stoessel, district manager of the Port Jefferson ambulance company. "It's well over $100,000 we've given back," to the two villages, Stoessel said.

Port Jefferson budgeted $491,000 for the ambulance company last year, said village treasurer Don Pearce. The ambulance company recouped costs through insurance billing, and gave the village $80,000, he said. The additional income will help lower taxes for residents, Pearce said.

"In today's climate, any alternate revenue stream is very welcomed," he said.

The Mineola volunteer ambulance company charges only non-village residents for ambulance calls.

Tom Devaney, a member of the Mineola company board of directors, said they rely on donations and a $60,000 stipend from the village for its $180,000 budget. About half of the budget comes from billing the insurance plans of nonresidents, who make up a large percent of service because of the high volume going to Winthrop-University Hospital, he said.

"It keeps taxes down," Devaney said. "We've required less money from the village to subsidize our company."

Both Port Jefferson and Mineola have third-party companies send invoices and collect payment from insurance companies. Neither ambulance company is aggressive about collection.

"We make three honest attempts [to collect], and after that, we're writing this off," Stoessel said. "People, they do see this as a semi-publicly funded service, and there is an expectation that this service has to be there."

Devaney said the Mineola company works out payment plans or discounts for uninsured patients.

"We're not in the business to dump people for . . . [not paying for] the service, to go after them," said Frank Nedelka, president of the Mineola board of directors.

Pontieri acknowledged providing service to indigent or uninsured residents remains a priority. "We need to protect those who are in most need," he said.

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