Houlton to lose ambulance billing provider

4 years ago

HOULTON, Maine — The Houlton ambulance service will soon be without a billing provider after the city of Caribou informed the community it was dropping this service.


In a letter drafted to the town of Houlton dated Jan. 17 and received by the town on Jan. 21, Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker said that Caribou was terminating its contract with Houlton due to “budget constraints.”

The town has until April 30 to find a new billing service. After that date, Caribou will no longer process any claims.

Towns must submit reimbursement requests to insurance companies for all of the ambulance calls. For the past six years, Caribou has provided billing services for the Shiretown. Prior to that, Houlton used the services of Presque Isle’s ambulance department. At one time, Houlton Regional Hospital also provided this service.

Houlton budgets $42,000 per year to cover the expense to Caribou. The exact amount paid varies from month-to-month based on the volume of calls.

Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson said Thursday that the town was going to put out a  Request for Proposals to see if any other agency is interested in providing this service for a fee. 

“We will also explore the possibility of doing this service in-house,” Anderson said.

Caribou provides billing services for Houlton, Island Falls, Calais and Patten. Only Houlton and Island Falls were being dropped, Anderson said.

The city of Caribou has come under fire of late from the neighboring communities over fire and ambulance coverage. The city has proposed a hefty increase for those communities, raising its fees to $100 per capita for emergency services as opposed to $11.50 per capita it charged in 2019.

In comparison, the town of Houlton charges $16.77 per capita to surrounding towns for fire and ambulance services, according to Houlton Fire Chief and Ambulance Director Milton Cone. Those rates could be adjusted in the near future.

Houlton provides contract services for ambulance coverage to the communities of Amity, Cary, Dyer Brook, Hammond, Hodgdon, Linneus, Littleton, Ludlown, Merrill, Monticello, New Limerick, Oakfield and Smyrna.

But the vast majority of calls Houlton ambulance responds to are for the town of Houlton. For example, in the month of December, the department had a total of 184 calls for service. Of those, 133 calls were for Houlton patients.

“Obviously Houlton is the largest area, by the fact of having all the nursing homes here in town,” Cone said.

Patients between the ages of 70 and 89 make up the largest demographic for calls for ambulance service. In December, 74 of the 184 total patients were in the 70-89 demographic. 

“We understand they [Caribou Fire and Ambulance] are going through a transition right now, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions,” Anderson said.