Vidalia won’t charge individuals for using ambulance service, paid for by taxpayers

Published 10:35 am Thursday, January 13, 2022

VIDALIA — On Tuesday, Vidalia officials adopted a new town ordinance dealing with how residents are billed for using the town’s ambulance service.

The law states that “Vidalia’s Emergency Medical Service does not charge patients for its ambulance services,” but rather insurance carriers are billed whenever the service is used.

Vidalia levies a one-half percent sales and use tax to provide a municipal ambulance service to its residents in addition to billing the patient’s insurance. This tax covers employees’ wages and equipment, such as a new $227,202 ambulance that officials ordered in November to replace an older one.

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Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said the way the service is paid for has not changed. The ordinance that the Vidalia Board of Aldermen adopted Tuesday changes the language of the law, ensuring that no patient is ever charged individually for using the service, he said.

“What this is doing is getting us in compliance with some changes that have been made in the law dealing with the ambulance,” Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said when introducing the proposed ordinance during a December board meeting. “This is verbiage. It does not change anything other than the ordinance gets us in compliance on how things are collected.”

A public hearing was held on the matter before the new ordinance passed unanimously. No public comments were made.

The town manager, Jay Lasyone, said the need to revise the ordinance arose when town officials decided to change billing companies to cut costs.

The town uses a third-party billing service for its ambulance. The town formerly contracted with Intermedix before the company merged with a New York-based company called Digitech.

“Our billing company shot the town a new contract that astronomically raised our rates,” Lasyone said. The company would bill the town for 12% of all fees collected from insurance providers whenever the ambulance service was used. However, the new company, called Ambulance Billing Systems, or ABS, charges the town 6% of the fees they collect, he said.

ABS requested the town revisit its billing laws and bring them up to date with federal regulations before beginning their contract, he said. ABS’s contract starts immediately now that the new ordinance has been approved, Lasyone said.

After receiving service, patients will traditionally receive a bill that requests their insurance information. However, regardless of how much their insurance covers, the patients are never charged for anything above what their insurance will pay for using the municipal ambulance service—even if they are uninsured, Lasyone said.

“This is an ambulance service for anyone we serve. If they’re in town from wherever and something happens, they are going to be serviced and individually they’re not going to be billed,” he said. “Sometimes the residents would get two or three bills in the mail and we would tell them to disregard them and explain that they wouldn’t be charged. It’s just part of the company’s process to gather insurance information. We would get checks from people and we’d send them right back.”

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting of the Vidalia Mayor and Board of Aldermen, the board:

Received a report from the town accountant, Debra Moak, who said the town received a clean audit for the prior fiscal year. Municipal audits provide the town with information about its quality and compliance with state requirements regarding how they handle the town’s finances. Craft said a clean audit with zero findings is “unheard of in any budget statewide” and a feat that the Town of Vidalia “should be proud of.”

Approved an occupational license and a sign application for “Mr. B’s Seafood LLC,” a new restaurant owned by Brian K. Seals to be at 401 Martin Luther King Ave.

Approved occupational licenses for Marling Properties and Marling Surveying, a new commercial property rental and professional land surveying service owned by Victoria Marling at 405 Texas St.

Heard a special presentation to Pattie Reed Jones of Operation GRITS from the Home With Heroes Foundation. Reed was presented with the “Soldier’s Friend” award presented to her by the foundation’s president, Mark LaFrancis, along with a flag that was flown over the capitol in Reed’s honor.

Opened bids for leasing a garbage truck to replace one with a lease that expires July 1. Due to a delay in having parts and equipment shipped, the truck could take longer than usual to be delivered, making it necessary to order one quickly to help ensure it arrives before the lease expires, town officials said. Two bids for the truck were opened: from River City Hydraulics for $224,358 with 36-month financing for $3,105, and an interest rate of 2.29%; and from Pac-Mac for $203,974, with 36-month financing for $3,160 at an interest rate of 2.29%. Craft said he didn’t understand why the monthly cost was higher on the less expensive truck from Pac-Mac. The board granted the sanitation department permission to review the two bids and accept the lowest and “most responsible” bid based on the truck’s estimated delivery date and it meeting the required specs.