Did you know that our fire district loses money every year on ambulance service? Did you know that fire protection and emergency medical services to your home are provided to you through your fire district taxes? However, ambulance transportation is not funded by district taxes and must sustain itself through insurance billing and other revenue sources.
Currently, residents of the fire districts are not billed for any outstanding co-pays or deductibles, which makes people believe that the ambulance service is free. Would you be alarmed if I said that would soon change? Perhaps, you have already read something about this. Changes in the healthcare industry have put the burden on the user with higher co-pays and deductibles. This means less revenue on an ambulance transport when insurance is billed. In order for Arizona Fire and Medical Authority, which serves Sun City West, to keep up its high-quality ambulance service, they will need to start billing for those out of pocket expenses in the future.
Hopefully, you have read the articles written by the Independent’s Roger Ball. Mr. Ball has a couple of articles recently published on this subject. I would like to emphasize a few points of interest as well.
Now back to our emergency services. The need to change how the emergency services are here in Sun City West started in 2008 when our economy took a down turn, causing fire districts to lose valuable revenue, and prompting a proposal, better known as Prop. 117, to be passed. This proposal limited the way that any special districts, including school and fire districts, could increase their tax levies to cover ongoing and growing expenses. Here’s how it works: Revenues generated are from a secondary tax based on our property value. Prop. 117 limited any proposed increase to only 5 percent per year.
Today, Sun City West residents are assessed a whopping rate of $2.86. Were we to be assessed a tax increase, that number could jump to $3.25, however, the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority (AFMA) administration works hard to be fiscally responsible with taxpayer dollars. AFMA administration also reminds us that funding the increased operational costs of the ambulance service is not something for which they can raise the property tax rate. Now, before I go farther, I would like to reiterate some of Mr. Ball’s information and place a little different slant on just what we receive for that money.
Every emergency call the fire authority responds to results in the possibility of two vehicles being dispatched. First comes that fire engine, whose personnel are trained as EMTs and paramedics, to assess the situation and many times can so that it does not require ambulance transport. If it is determined that an ambulance is needed, they will be dispatched. Coverage for that service, regardless of where you are taken, currently requires no out of pocket cost to you if you receive that service within our Sun City West walls and are transported by an AFMA ambulance.
AFMA has 160 fulltime members and 100 volunteers. Not to worry, none of the volunteers will be providing you emergency service. Their role is separate. For those of you who have purchased a key box for your house, a fire authority volunteer will come and assist in its installation. Emergency personnel maintain the emergency key that opens that box only. For those of you new folks to Sun City West, I would strongly suggest that if you don’t have one you should stop by the fire department’s administration office and get one. The key you have placed in that box could save your life in case of an emergency where you can’t get to the door to unlock it for emergency aid.
Our volunteers also test smoke detectors in your homes for free and can replace them if necessary at a very reasonable cost. The fire authority has an agreement with our local hardware stores to purchase the units at a reduced price.
I’ve introduced you to the Arizona Fire & Medical Authority program within Sun City West. They also partner with Sun Lakes, located in the Southeast Valley, which helps keep operating costs to a reasonable low. But that isn’t enough. AFMA has submitted an application to the Arizona Department of Health Services, ADHS, to extend an offer to all residents within the AFMA boundaries, which includes Sun City West, an annual membership fee of $75. This membership is known as the Ambulance Membership Program and if approved by ADHS, would cover any out of pocket co-pays or deductibles. Of course, you don’t have to join.
AFMA has reassured us that your 911 emergency services and access to ambulance transport will not change. However, you would then be subject to being billed any outstanding co-pay or deductible above what your insurance doesn’t cover, just like a visit to your doctor’s office or urgent care. The choice will be yours IF ADHS approves the request. When will this happen? It’s hard to tell because ADHS has 450 days to review, approve or reject any request put forth. For more information, you can visit the AFMA website at WWW.afma.az.gov and sign up for email updates on the Ambulance Membership Program.
Hopefully, this provides you with a little more insight on our very efficient emergency services program in Sun City West. I will leave it to you to decide how you want to proceed if AFMA releases the Ambulance Membership Program.
Editor’s note: The Arizona Fire and Medical Authority is not associated with the Rec Centers of Sun City West, and is an independent agency.