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Petition Drive to Overturn Ambulance Fee Exceeds Expectations | News

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Petition Drive to Overturn Ambulance Fee Exceeds Expectations

Rockville, Md. (WUSA) -- Volunteer firefighters hoping to derail a law to charge an ambulance fee in Montgomery County appear on track to produce more signatures than they will need to force the issue onto the ballot in November.

Volunteers have already collected 33,000 signatures, according to Eric N. Bernard, the Executive Director of the Montgomery County Fire-Rescue Association. Bernard predicts his group will have collected as many as 54,000 signatures before the drive is finished. It takes only 31,000 signatures to force the issue to a vote.

The Montgomery County Council has already passed a law that would charge county residents' health insurers for ambulance service. The fees range from $300 to $800, plus mileage, per trip.

The law is crafted so that the county can only collect from insurers. No county resident will be billed if they are uninsured, or if the insurers refuse to pay any or all of a claim by the county.

Non-residents, however, would be liable for the fee unless granted a need-based waiver.

"No county resident is going to get a bill, ever," promised Richard Bowers, the county's chief of Fire-Rescue Services.

Bowers says the fee is expected to generate $13 million to offset drastic budget cuts that have been imposed because of economic hard times.

"The bottom line is its going to be very hard to find $13 million dollars without severely reducing services," Bowers said.

Volunteers warn that studies show citizens will hesitate to call for help if they fear a fee.

"This is a matter of principal," said Bernard. "It's saving people's lives versus money.

Volunteers also object because the fee may make it much more difficult to solicit donations for local fire companies from their communities if residents' insurers have to pay for service.

Written by Scott Broom
9NEWS NOW & wusa9.com