A fee for emergency medical response provided by the Murrieta Fire Department is set to go into effect Jan. 1.
The EMS Subscription Program is a cost-recovery program that charges $350 per response, per person for each medical aid response that is performed by Murrieta Fire Department, according to an informational posting on the city website.
This does not include charges incurred by patients who are transported in an ambulance or provided other care by an ambulance company—which are covered by medical insurance or bill separately by the ambulance provider, the city stated.
After a series of public hearings, the Murrieta City Council in July voted 4-1 to establish the voluntary program and related response fees. City officials including the fire chief recommended it as a way to recoup paramedic-related costs incurred by the cash-strapped Fire Department.
“We didn’t invent this program,” said Murrieta fire Chief Matt Shobert. “We are adopting a mainstream program other departments have been doing for decades.”
Revenues for the Fire Department fell by 24 percent between 2008 and 2011, according to city officials; the Fire Department has been using economic contingency funds—and dealing pay cuts—because a fire assessment collected along with annual property taxes does not provide for paramedic services required under the state’s emergency medical act.
As an alternative to being charged $350 per response, the EMS Subscription Program gives residents and business owners the option of paying an annual fee ranging from $48 per household and—based on the number of employees— between $75 and $300 per business.
Shobert said that while the program does begin in the new year, the month of January will bring a "soft" roll out of the program.
“It is a soft launch. No one is going to get a $350 bill if they haven’t had an option to sign up yet,” Shobert said. “The responding crews will have no idea if they are a subscriber or not—that will not come into play.”
In November, a third-party company that will handle billing as well as a website for payment of subscription.
Since then, a public awareness campaign has been underway, he said.
Letters—31,000 of them—explaining the fee were mailed out during recent weeks, Shobert said.
The next piece of correspondence to households and businesses will be a notice containing a special combination of numbers, he said.
That code may then be used to sign up to pay the subscription fee, he said.
“No one is going to get a bill without ample opportunity to join the program.”
Shobert said some details are still being worked out, such as who is responsible for payment when paramedics respond to large public facilities such as schools.
"That issue came up last week and we are still researching how a multi-location business situation would apply."
Something that will never come into play when Murrieta firefighter/paramedics arrive on scene to administer emergency care, Shobert said, is whether a person is subscribed.