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Did You Know: Learn about SCW ambulance services

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By Marion Mosley
Rec Centers’ Treasurer

 

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.

  1. Judy Palozzi says:

    Our first responders are the absolute best in class. My experience with their services have pleasantly exceeded my expectations. I would agree to just about any reasonable increase cost sharing to insure their continued presence. I hope I will never need to call upon our Fire Department, but I am sure happy to know that our first class Fire Department is here ready to serve.

  2. Dan McK says:

    After reading Marion Mosley’s article on the AZ Fire & Medical Authority, I stopped at their offices to arrange for to inspect my (4) alarms, as well as the emergency lock bx for key to enter home in emergency. As a result of their inspection of the alarms, it was determined that the existing alarms were outdated and their personnel installed new ones. They were very efficient, personal, and helpful, and arrived at the appointed time. The key in lock bx was current, and I would not have known of this service, if I had not read Marion’s article. Thank you Marion, and AZ Fire & Medical Authority. Great experience, great job.

  3. Would we be in this same situation if the consolidation of fire districts had never happened? Seems like the efficiencies touted have vanished and “hidden fees” have surfaced.

    • Multimedia says:

      We can’t answer that here at the Rec Centers T McLean, but you can give the AZ Fire & Medical administrative office a call at 623-544-5400, or stop by to see them at 18818 N. Spanish Garden Dr. You may also wish to attend a board meeting, the schedule can be found here.

  4. Why is a big fire truck with the emts sent to a residential call instead of something that could be more cost efficient? Thank you P.S. your articles are very informative.

    • Multimedia says:

      Hello Petie, we’re glad you enjoy Director Mosley’s articles! You can reach the AZ Fire & Medical administrative office at 623-544-5400 to get your question answered. Or stop by at 18818 N Spanish Garden Dr here in Sun City West. Their hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

  5. Angie Fedele says:

    Thank you for this article – very informative. We hope to be Sun City residents some time in the future, and this type of article is very helpful in educating us on the local issues there.

  6. Your articles are ALWAYS informative and helpful. Please write more articles on other topics pertaining to the costs and expenditures in SCW. Most of us don’t realize where our $445 annual dues are all paying for and I must admit, some projects seem like non-necessities, i.e. replacing perfectly good landscaping, trees, bushes. etc.

    Also remind us of the CC&Rs. It’s been years since we signed those documents. Thanks for a great job writing this information, Mr.Mosley.

    • Multimedia says:

      Hello SKortan, we will pass along your request for an article about costs and expenditures to Director Mosley. Meanwhile here is a link to previous articles in our archives, some of which touch on CC&Rs.

  7. Jim Krause says:

    If we have Medicare and a very good supplement, is this membership really necessary as we are probably covered anyway? And is this membership for medical emergency only? What about a non-medical emergency need? Why not just charge all in the district an extra small pennies amount in taxes?

    • Multimedia says:

      Hello Jim, according to the AZ Fire & Medical website, non-emergency transfers would be allowed too, the procedures for that are listed here. The important thing to remember is that this program has not been approved by the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), it’s in the application stage. If they do not approve the change, ambulance services will continue as they are now from what I’m reading.

  8. What’s not clear is how we will receive copay information. Under Medicare, the medicare approved claim is usually limited to what is considered reasonable. Only 20% of that amount is the copay we are required to pay. We are told that we should not pay any balance of charges above that. This is all reported to us by our health insurance company. The reason we may have thought that ambulance service was free (covered by taxes) is that no report of claims submitted by the fire department was ever received. This issue needs to be clarified to facilitate consideration of the annual membership fee. Can do?

    • Multimedia says:

      Hello Bob. Director Mosley wanted to give residents an overview of this change that is in the pipeline. Here is some more detail from the AZ Fire & Medical website. And here are some FAQs from same. We’re sure even more information will be forthcoming as the time for this program to launch approaches.

  9. George Greenwell says:

    Is the Fire Department Aministrative Office still located on Spanish Garden Drive, and what were there hours? We were heading to replace our smoke detector and I stopped there to check about it but the office was closed and know one was there.

    • Multimedia says:

      Hello George, the number for AZ Fire & Medical is 623-544-5400. They are still at 18818 N Spanish Garden Dr. and are open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

  10. Ed Fagyal says:

    Marion:
    Thank you for a concise and informative “Did You Know”. I would personally welcome any way that we can support our local Fire and Medical personnel and hope that the Ambulance Membership Program is approved.

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