Airport plans huge ambulance fee increase

Get seriously ill at Atlanta's airport and an ambulance ride to a hospital could soon cost $1,300 or more.

That's up from the current charge of $50 -- a 2,500 percent increase.

The Atlanta City Council's transportation committee took its first vote Wednesday in favor of the hike. The full council will have to approve for it to take effect.

"Going from $50 to over $1,000 is a big shock factor initially," acknowledged Jimmy Gittens, chief of emergency medical services for Atlanta Fire Rescue at city-owned Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. But the fee has not been increased in about 30 years, he said, and the increase "allows us to bring in revenue without placing the burden upon the taxpayer."

That's because the patient would only be billed $100, with the rest billed to their insurance company, Gittens said. Patients without insurance are billed individually, but Gittens said those unpaid bills are not sent to collections agencies.

"We just write it off," he said, noting that the collection rate is about 80 percent under the current fee. The revenue goes to the airport, airport general manager Ben DeCosta said.

Gittens said some other cities charge more than $1,500. The average fee for EMS transportation in metro Atlanta is $900 plus mileage charges, according to the airport. Grady Memorial Hospital EMS's fee is $1,650 plus $25 per mile.

Last year, about 1,400 people used emergency transport from the airport, including both Fire Rescue transports and calls handled by private services.

Questioned by committee members, Gittens and DeCosta said the $1,300 amount is for cost recovery.

"The problem is that the city of Atlanta for over 20 years has been subsidizing it," said Hartsfield-Jackson general manager Ben DeCosta. "We can no longer afford to."

With revenue from parking and other functions down because of the economy, airport managers also want to boost fees charged to shuttle and other ground transportation operators, saying they also haven't risen in more than 20 years.