Palo Alto Fire Department Launches Less-Expensive Ambulance Shuttle Service
The Palo Alto Fire Department has launched a shuttle service that uses ambulances to transport fragile patients to hospitals, doctors' offices, rehabilitation centers and convalescent facilities at a lower cost than most private ambulance companies, the San Jose Mercury News reports. For $350 one-way plus $15 per mile -- which is generally covered by Medicare and other health plans -- recent stroke victims, patients who have been discharged from the hospital and others can be transported any weekday with a doctor's prescription; without a prescription, patients must pay entirely out of pocket. The service is intended to supplement funding for the fire department after the Palo Alto City Council cut $180,000 in overtime pay from the department's budget this year. Currently, with two appointments per day, Palo Alto's new service breaks even. With four appointments per day, the fire department could earn $250,000 per year in profit to support other department services. "This is an entrepreneurial effort by us to help recover the costs of providing fire service and lessen the burden to the taxpayer," Fire Chief Ruben Grijalva said. Some patient advocates applaud the new service, but Matt Edwards, spokesperson for Livermore-based American Medical Response, the nation's largest ambulance company, said he is worried that the fire department's relatively less-expensive service could drive down industry rates at a time when ambulance services recover only 73% of what they bill (Chakko Kuruvila, San Jose Mercury News, 3/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.