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6/22/2023 Sen. Gu, Rep. Spears help secure increased ambulance funding in state budget
STATE HOUSE — Sen. Victoria Gu and Rep. Tina Spears are applauding the state budget for including an additional $5.1 million to increase funding for the Medicaid reimbursement rates for ambulance services. They had introduced legislation to improve such funding and advocated for additional resources during the budget process.

“Our emergency services are an absolutely vital community resource, and we are so appreciative of all their hard work,” said Senator Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown). “I’m grateful to Senate President Ruggerio, Representative Spears and all my colleagues in the General Assembly for helping improve funding so that they can better recruit first responders and keep up with rising equipment costs.”

“This is a step in the right direction, showing our emergency responders that we appreciate their tireless work and we have their back,” said Representative Spears (D-Dist. 36, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham). “I am grateful to Speaker Shekarchi, Senator Gu and all my colleagues in the General Assembly for helping us get here. Most of all, I’m grateful for the first responders who show up for our towns every day.”

Almost a quarter of the state’s population is covered by Medicaid, which pays for health care needs, including ambulance services.

Chief Andrew Kettle runs Charlestown Rescue, a private nonprofit that provides all emergency rescue services for the town of Charlestown. He estimates his agency loses about $260 on every emergency call from a Medicaid patient. Those losses must be made up for by support from the town of Charlestown. Even then, Chief Kettle says, he is struggling to stay afloat.

“If you call 911, we will send an ambulance, worth a half a million dollars once equipped, and trained professional first-responders including Emergency Medical Technicians, Advanced EMT - Cardiacs and Paramedics,” said Chief Kettle. “But with the current reimbursement rate, if you have Medicaid, we get paid about $75 for that ride. We will absolutely respond to your emergency, but we’ve been stuck figuring out how to pay for it all.”

The town of Charlestown subsidizes Charlestown Rescue directly from the town budget to help keep the agency fiscally solvent. In many other communities, municipal employees are responsible for providing ambulance services. The insufficient Medicaid rate puts a strain on municipal budgets and, ultimately, property taxpayers.

The bills (2023-S 0516, 2023-H 6119) Senator Gu and Representative Spears introduced would have increased the Medicaid rate of reimbursement for ambulance and wheelchair van services to not less than 90% of Medicare rates for the same medical services.

While the bills did not pass, the rate changes in the budget are a step towards this goal, setting the
rates at about 40% of what Medicare pays. That will more than double the current Medicaid base rate from $69.53 per ambulance ride to an average of around $160 per ride, with higher rates for more acute patients.

That rate remains significantly below the rates in Massachusetts and Connecticut. But Chief Kettle says it is a big improvement.

“We’ll still lose money on each Medicaid transport, but at least it’s not as big of a hit,” Chief Kettle said. “I’m incredibly grateful to Senator Gu and Representative Spears for their advocacy and am hopeful we can continue this conversation next year so we can keep providing necessary service to our residents and pay our hardworking first responders fairly.”

For more information, contact:
Fil Eden, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903