Orcas Fire looks at cost recovery program

Acting Fire Chief Mik Preysz

Unlike Lopez or San Juan, the Orcas Fire Department doesn’t receive insurance reimbursement for EMS calls. And Acting Fire Chief Mik Preysz is hoping to change that.

“There will be no additional burden to Orcas residents,” said Preysz. “As call volume and expenses go up, this is a way to have another source of revenue.”

OIFR’s budget is primarily funded by residents’ taxes. An “EMS Cost Recovery” program will enable the department to collect money from  insurance premiums to support the capital and operational funds – without raising taxes. The fire commissioners will vote on the program at their regular meeting on Thursday, June 18.

The average cost for EMS treatment and transport is $1,742. That includes fuel, supplies, vehicle and equipment maintenance, training, volunteer stipends and employee wages. Those with insurance are already paying for emergency services, but as it is now, OIFR doesn’t receive any of those funds.

For Orcas residents, once their insurance is billed, any remaining balances like a co-pay or a deductible will be waived. If a patient does not have insurance, then no one will be billed.

“Once your insurance company pays, that is it,” Preysz said. “We’re looking at doing this on a trial basis, and if it doesn’t work, we’ll stop.”

However, for visitors to the island, remaining balances will not be waived and those without coverage will be billed in full.

Preysz says EMS call volume has increased 145 percent since 1999.  The program is predicted to bring in between $130,00 to $150,000 annually. The money will go into the capital fund for emergency and community services.

Preysz plans for a portion of the funds to go into Orcas CARES, an OIFR program that helps seniors and the disabled with care. Partners are the Orcas Senior Center, Lahari, Orcas Lions and Hearts and Hands.

“Orcas Cares is extremely important to this community because it keeps people home rather than sending them off the island for care,” Preysz said. “And we want to be able to fund that program more and more because the need is growing.”