Lexington is moving forward with a program that would help poor residents pay for costly ambulance bills
The Urban County Council's General Government and Social Services Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to create a fund for the city's poorest residents to use if they can't pay outstanding ambulance bills.
The proposal now goes to the full council for approval.
Councilwoman Peggy Henson had proposed the program after being told by several elderly Lexington residents that they didn't want to call an ambulance because they couldn't pay the bill.
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Henson had originally proposed waiving ambulance fees for people older than 65, but the law doesn't allow waiving fees for particular age groups.
The proposal approved Tuesday would use city money already set aside to help poor residents with utility bills and rent.
"We will provide assistance to low-income individuals just like we do with LexCall," Henson said.
The average bill for an ambulance run so far this year is $847. There are roughly 21,000 transports a year. In 2014, the city collected $6.9 million from ambulance bills, but it had $7.1 million in outstanding bills, Social Services commissioner Chris Ford said.
Ford said residents would have to show that they couldn't afford to pay the outstanding bill. Those who are at 150 percent of federal poverty level and below will qualify. For a family of two, that income would be less than $23,895. There is a cap of $400 for each bill.
"Clients can only access financial assistance once within a 24-month period," Ford said.
Ford said social services will use money from existing funds to help start the program. "We aren't asking for additional funds at this time," he said.
Because of the legal restrictions, Ford said, the city can't advertise the new program if it is approved by the full council. Ford said it will be possible for people to learn about the program once they receive an ambulance bill that they can't pay.
Council members asked questions about how ambulance bills are calculated and how many people are expected to need help paying for ambulance bills.
Ford said he isn't sure how many people need and qualify for that type of assistance. That's one of the reasons officials want to use existing funds and return to the council later with a possible budget amount for the program. Ford said if the full council approves the new fund, the program could begin as early as July 1.
General Government and Social Services Committee chairwoman Susan Lamb said she will ask Ford to return for an update six months after the program begins.