Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps at the scene of a motor vehicle accident on East Main Street and Route 58 in November. File photo: Peter Blasl

People involved in auto accidents in the Town of Riverhead who require transport to a hospital by Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps will have their auto insurance companies billed for the service beginning May 1, Councilman John Dunleavy announced yesterday.

People who need an ambulance for health emergencies not related to auto accidents will not be billed for the service, pursuant to the town board’s agreement with RVAC.

The town board first began discussing ambulance billing in 2012, when Supervisor Sean Walter put the idea forward as a tax-saving measure. Walter had advocated billing for all ambulance services, not just those required due to an auto accident. Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance policies cover the service, as do all auto insurance policies in New York.

The directors of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps. — a private nonprofit corporation that contracts with the Riverhead Town Ambulance District to provide ambulance services within the district — were reluctant to embrace the idea of billing. The corps lacked staff, equipment and office space to manage it, they said. And they also expressed concern that people might be reluctant to call an ambulance when they needed one if they thought they’d get a bill for it.

Two and a half years after the initial discussion, the town board — which serves as the board of commissioners of the ambulance district — settled on billing for auto accidents only and RVAC agreed.

“There are 1,000 accidents a year in the town,” Councilman John Dunleavy said at the December 4, 2014 town board work session. “People come out here and get into accidents and the Riverhead taxpayer gets stuck with the bill,” he said. “It’s not fair.”

The town issued a request for proposals for medical billing services in 2015. It received about six responses, according to deputy town attorney Dan McCormick, who handled the matter.

The town and the ambulance corps selected a Connecticut-based firm, Certified Ambulance Group, to act as the medical billing contractor.

Certified Ambulance Group will enter into a contract with Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, not the Town of Riverhead, McCormick explained. The town board will approve the arrangement at its next regular meeting, he said.

The town and RVAC held a public information meeting about the new policy on Wednesday night at town hall. But the meeting was not publicized except for a small legal notice in The Riverhead News-Review and a listing on the town’s website — a listing that did not appear on the homepage where upcoming meetings are featured. The town also did not post about the meeting on its Facebook page. Nor did it issue a press release or otherwise notify the media about the meeting.

Only one member of the public attended the meeting.

“It’s a shame because we had a man come down here all the way from Connecticut to make a presentation,” Dunleavy said yesterday.

Asked why the public information meeting was given virtually no publicity by the town, Dunleavy said, “We put an ad in the paper.”

Asked why the town didn’t issue a press release or otherwise notify the press, Dunleavy told reporters to ask the deputy town attorney.

Certified Ambulance Group principal Mark Gentile, who came to Riverhead Town Hall for the public information meeting Wednesday night, has agreed to return for additional meetings, McCormick said today. The dates, times and locations have not been set yet.

Drivers who have no auto insurance will be billed directly, McCormick said. Otherwise the bills will be issued directly to the auto insurance company.

“Motorists in the State of New York are required by law to have insurance,” he said. There has been no decision made by the board about how aggressively payment will be sought from drivers who did not have insurance.

There will be no billing for ambulance transport related to auto accidents in the Wading River Fire District, where the Wading River Fire Department provides rescue services. The rest of the town is within the Riverhead Ambulance District.

Flanders-Northampton Volunteer Ambulance is considering billing for ambulance services, including those not related to auto accidents. Many other municipalities and ambulance companies bill for ambulance transport. Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance policies — like auto insurance policies in New York — cover the service.

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