A five-year fix to Medicare payments for ambulance services was brought to the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said last week during a conference call with reporters.

Schumer said if Congress doesn’t act by Jan. 1, ambulance providers across the state would lose $40 million in funding. Locally, Niagara County providers would stand to lose $64,877 in 2014 and a total of $372,537 over the next five years.

The cut is the result of an expiring provision in federal law, Schumer said. The senator is including it in the Permanent Sustainable Growth Rate legislation that will be marked up before the committee and considered by the Senate this month.

If these cuts occur, they would hamper ambulance providers’ ability to provide reliable, life-saving services and to invest in the newest medical equipment and procedures for their vehicles, Schumer said. It could be a life or death situation, Schumer said, as such stability is increasingly important as the population ages and more patients treated by ambulance services are covered by Medicare. The legislation will be proposed as part of the annual “doc fix” bill that adjusts Medicare payments to physicians.

“Across Upstate New York, residents deserve top-notch emergency services, but if Congress doesn’t act by Jan. 1, critical Medicare reimbursements for our ambulances and emergency services will lapse. Our ambulance providers require these reimbursements — which are already less than the cost of service — to continue to provide the highest quality of care possible and invest in the latest medical equipment,” Schumer said. “It’s vital that we continue to give ambulance providers fair reimbursement.”

Currently, Medicare payments to private, non-profit and volunteer ambulance providers are set to be reduced by 2 percent for urban and 3 percent for rural areas at the end of the year.

Schumer said from 2000-10, the 60-plus population in New York increased by 15 percent. Approximately 40 percent of patients transported by ambulances are covered by Medicare, making Medicare payments critical to ambulance providers.

“Medicare is the biggest payer that we have,” said Walt Reisner of Trans Am Ambulence in Olean, New York. “A 2 to 3 percent cut would be devastating. It would result in our having increased response times and put life and limb at risk.”

Schumer mentioned a 2007 Government Accountability Office report that said ambulance providers are still being underpaid by Medicare, hampering their ability to outfit their vehicles with cutting edge medical equipment and training their emergency personnel and medics in the latest pre-hospital care procedures and treatments.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.

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