The city of Lexington is considering waiving ambulance fees for Medicare recipients as part of an effort to ensure that poor seniors can get emergency care.
City officials told the Urban County Council's Public Safety Committee on Tuesday that it will return in January with details on how much such a program could cost the city if implemented.
Council member Peggy Henson, the chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said she asked the city's legal department to look into waiving fees for ambulance services for seniors after hearing from several seniors who said they won't call 911 because they can't pay for it.
"We do have a payment plan," Henson said. "But a lot of these people have no additional money."
Michael Sanner, a lawyer for the city, told the council that the federal government doesn't allow city-owned ambulance services to waive costs for people older than 65, but it does routinely allow costs to be waived for Medicare recipients, most of whom are older than 65.
According to information provided to the council, about 24 percent of people transported by Lexington EMS are older than 65. It wasn't clear how many of those are Medicare recipients.
That's some of the data the city will need before it can determine whether it can waive fees for Medicare recipients, Henson said.
According to a data analysis conducted by the Herald-Leader in February, the city only collects roughly 50 percent of the amount it bills for ambulance services. From January 2010 to July 2013, the city had more than $20 million in outstanding ambulance bills.
Henson said the city's collection rate might determine whether the council would allow Medicare recipients not to be billed. But many of the people who abuse 911 services are not those on Medicare — it's the uninsured, she said. "There are a lot of 'frequent flyers' that don't pay," Henson said. "But a lot of those people are not insured."