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Medicare reimbursements extended for ambulance services

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CNY/NNY/S. Tier: Medicare reimbursements extended for ambulance services
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It's a financial issue ambulance services have dealt with for years: Getting shortchanged when it comes to Medicare reimbursements. But a new extension of the program's payments that was passed along with the fiscal cliff deal will protect emergency services. Our Sarah Blazonis tells us why it's not only patients enrolled in Medicare who will benefit

CAMILLUS, N.Y. -- No one wants to wind up as a passenger in an ambulance, but paramedics say they want patients to feel confident that their crews are ready to handle any emergency.

"Cardiac monitors that allow us to diagnose certain types of heart attacks in the patients' home," said WAVES Ambulance Public Information Officer Daniel Taylor of one piece of equipment crews carry.

But equipment, medication and training all come at a price. Providers like Mercy Flight Central say those are costs that would be difficult to meet without the latest Medicare payment extension.

"We account for that when we're budgeting every year as to how many Medicare and Medicaid patients we're anticipating having and right now about 20 percent of our patients are on federal programs," said Neil Snedeker, president and CEO of Mercy Flight Central.

And those calls add up. A 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office shows providers are paid an average of six percent below cost for treating those patients.

The expected decrease in payments would have had a major impact on private, non-profit and volunteer services.

"It would mean that additional programs that we offer like CPR training, community outreach events, public education events, those might have to go by the wayside," said Taylor.

"Between the critical care that we provide and the rapid transport to the appropriate hospital, that's what would be lost if we lose funding streams such as Medicare," said Snedeker.

Providers say the extension of the urban, rural and super rural bonus increases isn't a cure-all, but it could allow for the extra tools that, in some cases, mean the difference between life and death.

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