People with multiple unpaid EMS bills owe Horry County more than $1.7 million

HORRY COUNTY, SC - (WBTW) More than a thousand people owe Horry County about $1.7 million in delinquent bills from repeat ambulance rides in the time span of one year.

News 13 found out there are people who live right here in Horry County that owe thousands of dollars and they're not paying up.

From July 1 2011 to June 30 2012 which is the most recent time range for delinquent EMS bill write offs in Horry County, News 13 found one person who had 34 ambulance trips all unpaid; six of them alone were in the month of July.

During the same time span, another person had 22 rides totaling $15,000 in delinquent bills.

These are not unique situations. There are more than a thousand people during that timeline who have taken multiple ambulance rides and not paid for it.

Out of a $5.7 million in delinquent EMS bills in fiscal year 2012, about a 1/3 ($1.7 million) of that comes from people who are repeat offenders.

So who are they? Well county officials refuse to say.

No matter how information requests were worded or how many times they were made to county officials the names and address of the delinquent offenders and the reasons for the call for service are unavailable because of HIPAA Law protection.

"We don't have the option to say, "sorry, nah we don't' think you need to go to the hospital. We think you need to just go back to bed.' That's not an option we have if they're asking to go to a hospital we have to take them," said County Spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.

News 13 also reached out to state senators, Greg Hembree and Luke Rankin about the problem. They said at this time they are unaware of any legislation to deal with the issue.

Interim fire chief, Scott Thompson, says the goal of first responders is not to make money.

"The last thing that we want is for anybody to not call 911 or not seek medical assistance and really need it and it be a life threatening case because they owe us some dollars," said Thompson.

However, it is a service they want to be able to afford.

"There's millions of dollars that's out there that's not collected and we need to find a way of doing a better job of doing that," said Bourcier.

Bourcier says since News 13's first story on delinquent EMS bills aired things have changed.

News 13 has reported the county has already hired a third party company which replaced the five county employees who were manually sending out thousands of letters a week to delinquent offenders.

Bourcier says now the county is even considering collection agencies.

As far as collecting now, the county uses the state's debt set-off program; which withholds South Carolina state tax returns to pay off debt.

The problem is if you don't have a job or file tax returns then you're not paying back anything

"There is a few that may be abusing the system but that's not a norm that we see across the board," said Bourcier.

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