Thursday, October 23, 2008

Montgomery Council Blocks Ambulance Fee Plan - Gazette

By Ann E. Marimow | Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2008; 2:56 PM

The Montgomery County Council this morning blocked County Executive Isiah Leggett's (D) proposed ambulance fee legislation after an outpouring of opposition from residents and the county's volunteer firefighter organization.

The Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to postpone action on the measure, which was intended to raise about $14 million a year to fund fire and emergency services.

Leggett had stressed that his plan was designed to charge health insurance companies -- not residents -- for ambulance transport. Montgomery's neighboring jurisdictions, including the District and Fairfax and Prince George's counties, already charge for ambulance service.

But Leggett's proposal encountered resistance from Montgomery's well-organized volunteer firefighters, who waged an aggressive campaign with yard signs and phone-banking. Leaders of the volunteer organization, who say that charging for service is at odds with their mission, declared victory yesterday after the council's action.

"The council is listening, not only to the volunteers, but to the citizens," said Marcine Goodloe, president of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association.

The proposed fee, which ranges from $300 to $800, depending on service, plus $7.50 per mile traveled, would raise an estimated $13.8 million in its first full year.

Under the legislation, county residents would not be billed, regardless of whether they have health insurance, and they would not be responsible for a co-pay or deductible. An insured patient who does not live in the county would be billed a co-pay or deductible, but could seek a waiver.

Leggett's spokesman Patrick Lacefield said the administration was "okay with delaying action to get people more information."

But some council members were less certain about the bill's future.

"They've had the chance to make their case, and they haven't been persuasive," Andrews said. "It may well not be over, but I think it is dead."

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