Colorado Senator Kills $10 Per Vehicle Fee for Trauma Care

April 19, 2006

Facing a difficult election year and a “buzz saw” of opposition from a range of powerful groups, a state senator on Monday pulled his plan to charge drivers a $10-per-vehicle fee to shore up the state’s trauma care system.

Hospitals and ambulance services claim they’ve been losing about $100 million a year since the state abandoned its no fault car insurance system because they say their payments have been smaller and take longer to get. Car insurers used to pay for medical bills from car accidents but now that falls to health insurance companies, who do not typically pay out as much money. Some drivers also don’t have health insurance or enough to cover their hospital bills.

Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, said he proposed doing away with the $25 emissions test required in the Denver area every two years to make the $10 fee easier to bear. But he said the oil and gas industry opposed that because it feared, without the emissions tests, its wells could be targeted for emissions reductions if air pollution worsened.

The fee would have brought an estimated $44 million a year to cover the unpaid bills of hospitals and ambulance services.

The Colorado Trial Lawyers Association opposed giving that money to for-profit hospitals. Executive Director John Sadwith said the proposal would let hospitals jump to the front of the line of groups looking to be paid following an accident, ignoring the needs of the victim.

“The people who are complaining are the ones who want the subsidy,” he said.

In addition, Hagedorn said the $10 fee could be viewed as a tax on the rest of Colorado where drivers don’t have any fees added to their registration now.

“Depending on how it’s presented, it could be a huge campaign issue,” Hagedorn said after the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee decided to study the issue after the Legislature adjourns next month.

A committee already studied problems with the state’s no fault system last year and most of their proposals have been killed this session. One bill that’s still alive would require health insurance companies to pay medical bills from car accidents within 30 days as long as it’s a “clean claim” with no dispute over who’s at fault.

A previous attempt requiring car insurance companies to pay for emergency medical costs was killed after insurers said it would increase rates by $145 a year for safe, middle-aged drivers.

But taxpayers and people with health insurance could end up paying anyway.

While hospitals can cause more for one service to make up for their losses in the emergency room, ambulance services don’t have that option. In Weld County, the public ambulance service has increased its base rate for a ride to the hospital by 25 percent over two years to $1,200, pushing more of the cost onto patients who have health insurance, director David Bressler said.

He expects other public ambulance services to either increase their rates or ask for a subsidy from their county commissioners to make up the gap. He said his service is only collecting about 35 percent of what it bills each month, due to the low reimbursement rate for Medicaid and Medicare patients along with problems with health insurance companies paying claims.

“Another year will mean another year of hanging on they way they’ve been hanging on,” he said. “I’m not sure if there’s another way to do that except ask the taxpayers.”

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