The Clearfield City Council earlier this month approved one of the largest increases for emergency medical services in city history. A host of other cities and private companies that provide ambulance service are expected to follow suit.
When the dust settles, Utah will be left with a 9.2 percent increase in services for ground ambulance transportation — the state's second-highest across-the-board increase in at least 20 years.
The only increase larger was a 14 percent hike doled out in 1996.
The state Department of Health fixes maximum EMS rates, and, according to those in the industry, this year's big spike, which was announced earlier this month, is long overdue.
"It was a good raise, and hopefully it will make a difference," said Ace Ambulance manager Walt Bright. "It's a hard business to survive in."
While ambulance providers don't have to charge the full rate, most, if not all, adopt the new rates after they are established each July.
Among the increases authorized by Bureau of Emergency Medical Services director Jan Buttrey are hikes for basic life transports, up from $252.77 to $276.03 per call; increases for advanced life transports, up from $502.40 to $548.62 per transport; and a per-mile rate boost from $11.07 to $12.09 per mile.
Buttrey cited soaring gas prices, higher wages and benefits, skyrocketing costs for medical supplies and expensive communication equipment as reasons for the large hikes.
The bottom line, she said, is that costs for medical services are increasing faster than consumer indexes used to measure inflation.
Despite this year's generosity, some in the EMS industry, including Bright, say certain rates need to be higher.
At Gold Cross Ambulance, which provides ambulance service throughout Salt Lake and Utah counties, vice president Jared Miles argued before a legislative subcommittee this week that transportation costs for Medicaid patients, which haven't been increased in 13 years, should be boosted.
Miles also expects to lobby the Legislature next year for further increases in ambulance transportation rates.
And his efforts seem to be paying off.
In addition to this year's increases — which will stay in effect for one year when they will be re-evaluated and likely increased again next July— the state is poised to increase the amount ambulance providers can gain for transporting a Medicaid patient.
The increase, which is expected to come in 30 to 45 days, will boost the price of an ambulance ride from $100. 65 to $146.00 per transport for Medicaid patients, who by law receive heavily discounted medical services.
"All the providers need these revenues to maintain quality service," Miles said.
Utah is one of the few states that controls both EMS rates and the number of ambulance providers that can enter the market. In essence, Buttrey said, the system is regulated much like public utilities.
Yearly, the health department analyzes data and makes adjustments to the maximum rates for ambulance transport.