EMS Garret Bubela

EMS director Garret Bubela 

With less than 10 percent of ambulance riders paying for the service at points since the start of the pandemic, the El Campo City Council opted to change billing companies last session.

Next, council says, is a formalized agreement with El Campo Memorial Hospital to ensure transport costs are covered. For now, however, the two agencies continue to operate on a handshake agreement which leaves the city billing the patient directly rather than the facility.

Changes started in November with Garret Bubela, previously the assistant El Campo EMS director, being named its new chief.

Bubela presented council, with a recommendation to replace Emergicon with Change Healthcare, one of 10 services vying for billing duties, at the last session.

Emergicon was hired in November 2013 following council concern that EMS collections had dropped to a low of 43.7 percent.

Now collection rates are nowhere near as good as the level that prompted council action eight years ago.

Despite the increased COVID-19 call volume, El Campo EMS collections ranged from a low of 6.7 percent in July for insurance patients to highs of 19.7 percent for private payers in April and July.

Medicaid collections between October 2020 and city budget talks in July ranged from a high of 15.3 percent in May to a low of 9.6 percent in March.

“Can we monitor this a little better? Right now it’s six months before it goes to collection,” At-large Councilman Philip Miller said during the session. “This is where we lose our money.”

Bubela assured council collections on initial billing would be watched closely.

The dismal collection rate since prompted the city to reduce its fiscal year 2022 collections from $954,500 to $884,656.

However, that doesn’t mean EMS service funding will suffer. Instead, it indicates where a shortfall may have to be funded.

El Campo EMS is a city owned and operated institution, its costs are paid via a $1.2 million contract with Emergency Services District 4, a taxing entity covering West Wharton County.

The lack of a transport contract with El Campo Memorial Hospital is another area where the city is losing funding, District 1 Councilwoman Anisa Vasquez said, adding, “They get reimbursed, we do not.”

The city has provided transports for the local hospital for more than a decade without a contract.

“(A contract is) the top goal to bring to you,” Bubela told council.

“When we’re not available, that private company (ECMH uses) is getting paid,” Vasquez added.

Mayor Chris Barbee offered his support for the new EMS director. “Garret will help us do that (create a contract),” he said.

“I doubt it,” said District 2 Councilwoman Gloria Harris ending the discussion.

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