- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - A Phoenix transportation company is suing the state to obtain a non-911 ambulance license the company says would save patients money.

ABC Ambulance recently filed its lawsuit after Arizona Department of Health Services Director Will Humble and an administrative law judge denied a “certificate of necessity” license to the company, the Arizona Republic reports (https://goo.gl/mSJwFm). Such a license is needed in Arizona for ambulance companies to enter state-regulated markets.

The company sought the license to allow it to provide inter-facility and non-emergency ambulance services in parts of Maricopa County and Apache Junction. Currently, only Rural/Metro Corp. provides private, non-911 ambulance services in Maricopa County.

Neal Thomas, ABC Ambulance’s owner, said competition for services is needed to give consumers better prices. He estimates he has spent close to $1 million in legal and consulting fees fighting the state.

“My feeling is there’s still a huge need,” Thomas said. “It just doesn’t make sense that the system is saying ‘no’ to what we want to provide. We have been at it for three years. How do you walk away when you know you are right?”

Humble declined to discuss the dispute.

Scottsdale-based Rural/Metro, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year, opposes ABC Ambulance’s license request.

Court records show that Thomas could provide ambulance services at rates of $483 to $521 per ride, while Rural/Metro charges rates of $643 to $901.

“There clearly needs to be better pricing,” Thomas said.

John Karolzak, Rural/Metro’s vice president of operations, said figures for his company are higher because they are blended rates that include 911 services, something Thomas doesn’t plan to offer.

Because private ambulance services are state-regulated, a company that could lose business is allowed to intervene and keep out competition, Karolzak said.

“The reason it’s called a certificate of need is an applicant who wants to get into the ambulance business has to show that a provider is not meeting the needs of the community,” Karolzak said. “They have the burden of proof.”

Court records show that ABC Ambulance was unable to prove there was a public necessity for another company in Maricopa County. And ABC Ambulance failed to show it had the “resources or was fiscally competent” to provide services, according to the records.

Karolzak said Thomas is trying to “cherry-pick” or “skim” business from Rural/Metro by providing only daytime, non-911 service.

In December 2013, the law judge recommended a denial of ABC Ambulance’s application, and in March of this year, the Arizona Department of Health Services issued a final order against ABC Ambulance.

ABC’s lawsuit against the state is before Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Crane McClennen.

The parties have through mid-December to file legal briefs as a precursor to a ruling.

___

Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com

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