There are no free rides with the Carter County Emergency and Rescue Squad. If your insurance fails to pay for services rendered by the squad or you are left with a remaining balance once the insurances does pay, chances are you will find a bill in your mailbox. If you then don’t pay, you possibly will be taken to court by the squad in an effort to collect the bill.
A non-scientific poll conducted by the STAR over a period of two weeks, both online and through a paper ballot in the STAR revealed that an overwhelming majority of those who voted did not think the Squad should sue individuals for non-payment of services while receiving taxpayer funds for their operation. A total of 488 persons participated in the poll with 361 voting “NO” on the question and 127 voting YES.
Also, many of the comments received with the ballots indicated that many, who responded have the misconception that the Squad still operates as it did 25 years ago. Rescue Squad Director Terry Arnold noted that although the Squad still has some volunteer workers, most are trained EMTs and paramedics, who are paid employees. “Most of our employees cannot afford to work for free. We have 72 paid fulltime and parttime employees. In addition to their work here, our employees are constantly being trained. Just to keep their certification up, they must have 100 hours of training each year,” Arnold said. He noted that the squad hires the best knowledgeable people it can afford.
“We do a lot of transports, have special rescue teams, all of which cost money. The funds we received from the Carter County Commission and the City of Elizabethton are used to finance rescue services, not our operational expenses,” Arnold said. He noted that the Emergency Medical Services division of the squad is self-supporting through billing of the medical insurance companies as well as individuals. He noted that last year the squad had to write off approximately $1 million in bills owed by those without insurance and no other way to pay. “We try to work with everyone on a payment plan. We charge on the same sliding scale used by the Carter County Health Dept. It may be a small amount or nothing. It depends on their income,” Arnold said.
Many of those who responded to the survey suggested Arnold’s annual salary of $80,000 was a little much compared to what most people in Carter County were paid. However, Arnold said the squad’s board of directors determined his salary based on what other directors were making in a county and city the same size of Carter County and Elizabethton and the diversity of services offered by the local squad.
An attached note with one ballot said, “Not only does the Rescue Squad receive our tax dollars and funding from the City of Elizabethton they also receive money from our insurance company. I think they should take what the city and county give them and what they receive from our insurance companies without getting judgement against taxpayers.”
Another wrote: “They should be happy with what Medicare pays. Cut Arnold’s pay. He’s no brain surgeon. There’s too many living off the taxpayers as it is.”
Another wrote: ” No, I don’t think people should pay for the squad’s services. People can’t pay what they don’t have. If a person has insurance, take what the insurance pays. If a person does not have insurance, the squad should not charge that person.”
Another reader wrote that the squad transported her husband to Johnson City Medical Center from Elizabethton – 11 miles – and billed their insurance company $657. The insurance company paid all except $65.70, which they were billed for. She said when she inquired to the squad about $132 of the charges, she was told it was for the mileage.
“My insurance company remittance states that they paid the estimated normal rates allowable, so, if there is a balance, are the rates charged to my insurance “above” the estimated allowable rates normally charged elsewhere,” the writer asked.
A participant who felt that the Squad should be able to sue for nonpayment of bills wrote: Certainly…my answer is yes. The money that the county gives to the rescue squad is not for operations or salaries, but for searching for lost persons, injured and lost hikers, drownings at the lake, and rescue missions on our area rivers. These types of services are very costly, I’m sure. Does the hospital or doctor’s office sue when if you owe them money and don’t pay. Sure do. Why not the rescue squad?”
Arnold noted that regardless of whether a person can pay or not pay, “We will always go when that call comes in. That is our job. That is our mission,” he said.