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Des Moines prepares to raise ambulance fees

They're doing it to keep up with rising costs of equipment

DES MOINES - Prepare to pay more the next time an ambulance comes to your home. The fire department is raising its fees to keep up with the rising costs of equipment and services.

Jerry Polson still remembers when he got in a bad motorcycle wreck.

"When the paramedics came and they asked me if I wanted to go to the hospital, I think back then, and this was 30 years ago, it was $100 just to take me to the hospital," said Polson.

Polson couldn't afford to pay back then. So, a friend drove him to the hospital.

"There are other people who are worse off than I am, so I don't think it's a good idea," he said.

It's not any cheaper now.  In fact, Des Moines ambulances are going to raise their fees. Right now, everything's $575, but by June 1, level two care will nearly double. They say it's
because of more call outs and rising costs.

"Lots of equipment that is utilized and left at the hospital and they use there, it's not something that we can clean, wash up and put back on the truck, let alone the medicines," said Brian O'Keefe, spokesman for the Des Moines Fire Department.

But for some folks, the increased prices means they might not call 911. 

"I would probably try to take every alternative I could if it was possible," said John Frost of Des Moines. "There are other bad wrecks, where people just have to take an ambulance, because it's a matter of time."

"If you can't afford it, you're just going to get a bill, and they're going to send it to the collection agency, and you're still going to owe 'em," said Polson. 

So far, the city has gotten little pushback.

"It's pretty well understood," said city council member Bill Gray. "I got one email and that was it."

Since last year, the department used so much life-saving equipment, it had to ask the city for an extra $50,000 to balance the budget.

"I think we've done a pretty good job of managing it for the last 10 years, but sometimes it just catches up with you," said Gray. 

"This isn't a revenue generator, it's to recover the expenses with the level of care that we provide in the city of Des Moines," said O'Keefe.

Even in the city gets the money to cover the rising costs, it's still looking at $17 million in unpaid ambulance fees over the years.

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