Lexington's budget would take a hit of $2.3 million a year if the city waives ambulance fees for Medicare recipients, city officials told the Urban County Council on Tuesday.
That's a little less than 1 percent of the city's total general fund budget of $313 million.
Finance commissioner Bill O'Mara said if the council votes to waive ambulance fees for Medicare patients, that $2.3 million would have to be cut from the city's current budget or the money would have to come from some place else.
O'Mara cautioned the Planning and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that if the council exempts Medicare recipients from being charged, other insurance providers might also want to be excluded.
Medicare is a federal program that serves the elderly.
Council member Peggy Henson, who originally proposed looking at waiving fees for seniors, said Tuesday that she'd like to discuss the proposal further with council members and city officials before deciding whether to pursue the waiver of ambulance fees.
Henson had heard from several seniors who said they didn't want to call an ambulance because they couldn't afford to pay the bill.
"To get a bill of $150 to $200 a month is devastating to them," Henson said.
Rusty Cook, the city's revenue director, analyzed three years of ambulance billing and collections for the city. Lexington's annual revenue from ambulance billings is $6.8 million. About $2.3 million of that is from Medicare. A Medicare recipient without any supplemental insurance was charged an average of $88. Those with supplemental insurance received an average bill of $23.
"The highest bill was $228, and there (were) bills as low as $1," Cook said.
City officials have said the law doesn't allow the city to waive fees for people older than 65. The law would allow waiver of fees for Medicare recipients.
However, federal law says the city cannot just waive the patient's portion of the ambulance bill. It has to waive the entire $2.3 million, city officials said Tuesday.
Henson said she might return to the issue as early as next month after discussing the possible fiscal impact to the city.