Uninsured inmates will no longer foot the bill for ambulance rides under new MedStar, JPS agreement

dfwnewsa | March 18, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Uninsured inmates will no longer foot the bill for ambulance rides under new MedStar, JPS agreement

A JPS Health Network van is parked outside of the Tarrant County Corrections Center. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)
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Some inmates at Tarrant County’s jails will no longer be charged for emergency ambulance rides, after the county’s hospital district approved a reimbursement agreement with MedStar. 

For more than a decade, uninsured people incarcerated in Tarrant County were expected to foot the bill if they needed to be transported to a hospital. But the EMS provider responsible for those transports, MedStar, reported abysmal collection rates; the average payment MedStar collected from uninsured Tarrant County Corrections Center patients in 2022 was $2.36. Most bills were eventually written off as charity care.

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“This is a great moment,” Matt Zavadsky, chief transformation officer for MedStar, said. “It’s nice to know that at a time when health care is struggling across the country, including EMS agencies, that JPS, the hospital district, was willing to help us serve the community by reimbursing us for those services.”

Reporting by the Fort Worth Report showed unpaid jail transport bills were worsening an already dire financial situation for Fort Worth’s EMS provider. MedStar was owed about $2.6 million from transports in 2022 alone. 

Last year, MedStar began lobbying JPS Health Network to share the financial burden. Other hospital districts, including those in Dallas and Bexar counties, already pay for emergency care for inmates. 

This month, JPS’ board of managers made that a reality. The board approved a reimbursement agreement between the hospital district and MedStar on March 14. While the managers did not comment on the reimbursement agreement, an earlier meeting of the hospital district’s finance committee prompted plenty of questions. Chief among them was a question of responsibility.

“Why doesn’t the county pay for this?” board member Tim Davis asked at the Feb. 22 meeting. 

In Texas counties that have a hospital district, the responsibility for paying for indigent health care — health care for people who can’t afford it — falls to the hospital district rather than the county. But MedStar wasn’t aware it could bill JPS for inmate transports until last year.

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“I just never knew that we were never billed for this,” board chairman Trent Petty said in the finance committee meeting. “It’s like they forgot to bill.”

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“Can we forget to pay?” Davis jokingly replied, prompting laughs from other board members.

Zavadsky said the EMS provider will continue to pursue payment from incarcerated people with insurance or ability to pay, rather than billing JPS. The reimbursement agreement covers indigent inmates, specifically.

“If the patient doesn’t have insurance and the patient can’t afford to pay, then the hospital district is really doing the right thing by helping to reimburse for the cost of that service,” he said.

MedStar is also in the process of securing a reimbursement agreement with the city of Fort Worth for services to its municipal jail. The current proposal is a one-year agreement with costs not to exceed $250,000, according to an informal report presented to council members. The agreement would have unlimited renewal options.

MedStar is also in the process of securing a reimbursement agreement with the city of Fort Worth for services to its municipal jail. The current proposal is a one-year agreement with costs not to exceed $250,000, according to an informal report presented to council members. The agreement would have unlimited renewal options.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or @_wolfemily

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