The Great Neck Vigilant Fire Company is considering billing for ambulance services after village officials requested it look at doing so.
David Weiss, chairman of the fire company’s Board of Trustees, said in October members of the fire company voted to authorize the board to look at potentially billing residents’ insurance for ambulance services.
“I understand the complexities of the budgets and financial strain on the villages,” Weiss said. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable with the way insurance companies work now. It’s not an unreasonable request for villages to seek some sort of help in their budget process.”
He added that the fire company exists to “service the community,” and if village officials ask them to consider looking at something they feel is necessary, they are willing to help.
Currently, villages north of the Long Island Rail Road’s Great Neck station contract with the fire company for both fire and ambulance services.
Weiss said state law prevents fire department’s from billing for fire services, but the fire company could bill for ambulance services if it is split from the fire services they offer.
He added that it would take a “huge process” to create another company, which could take up to a year.
Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said village officials have discussed with the fire company the possibility of billing for ambulance services, which would “allow residents with health insurance to have the cost of ambulance services billed to their insurance companies.”
“This is revenue currently generated to insurance companies that could now be recouped through billing and put back into improving our local volunteer ambulance services,” Celender said. “The Village of Great Neck Plaza and our sister peninsula villages are faced with very difficult and challenging times trying to manage increasing costs under the state-mandated property tax cap.”
“Charging for ambulance services would help curb increasing budgetary expenses and help to offset raising taxes to pay for these services,” she added. “We know this is a huge undertaking by Vigilant but we feel it is essential that they take this route so our residents can find it affordable to live here and are continued to be provided with excellent emergency response services.”
Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral said the goal of discussions between village officials and the fire company was to find ways to lessen the burden of taxes on residents.
Bral said with residents paying Nassau County ambulance service taxes, village ambulance service taxes and health insurance costs, it is “unfair to the residents to be billed three times.”
“I think what we’re trying to do as mayors is to find the best possible care for the residents and trying to make sure they’re not being charged multiple times for that care,” he said. “What the mayors are trying to do is find the best option.”
Great Neck Estates Mayor David Fox said although officials would need to figure out the logistics of billing, it is a “win-win situation for everyone.”
“There are always options and people looking at what’s better and what’s worse,” Fox said. “But I can’t praise enough the concept that we have these people going out there and doing the work they do on a volunteer basis and then understanding that there are economics involved as well and wanting to make sure that we stay healthy as villages and be able to support them to the extent we do.”
Vigilant Fire Company Chief Josh Forst said as chief, he is “more than happy to do what the public wants,” but as a taxpayer, he was concerned with insurance companies not covering the full cost of service.
“As a taxpayer it really bothers me that I might get a bill for an ambulance coming to my house when I already pay for it in my taxes,” Forst said. “If we were to start billing for ambulance service, I am fairly certain that my taxes will not be reduced. With insurance reimbursement being what it is, I now will most likely have to pay for that service out of pocket.”
“I can’t imagine after 80 years of a resident paying pennies on the dollar for service, that they would want a four-figure bill, especially when our response times are well below national averages, and we just hired paramedics to make sure we are giving the residents the best available care,” he added.
Forst encouraged residents to contact the fire company and village officials to let them know their opinion.
Weiss said one of his concerns about billing for ambulance services is “what the residents will think” of the fire company.
“We’re a volunteer service,” he said. “We’re not looking to make money.”
But Weiss admitted that billing could help both villages in managing their costs and the fire company by providing “another avenue for us to grow.”
“We at the fire company are committed to the community and committed to the officials to make this a better service, if possible,” he said. “I truly don’t believe there is another department or another service, whether paid or volunteered, that can handle the call volume, that know the community, that know the streets, that can get it done better than we can.”
North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Kings Point Mayor Michael Kalnick declined to comment.
Efforts to reach Saddle Rock Mayor Dan Levy and Thomaston Mayor Steven Weinberg were unavailing, while Kensington Mayor Susan Lopatkin was away and unable to comment.