HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Horry County is losing millions of dollars of tax money due to people who are rushed to the hospital by ambulance not paying their bills for EMS services.
It's a pretty big number that's owed to the county now, about $2.4 million. And some Horry County taxpayers don't like the sound of that staggering number.
"It's a problem. It is a problem," expresses Horry County resident Nancy Bredeen. "Because that [amount of money] would be hard to collect. Because that means you'd have to go up and down all of the east coast probably, half way to the country maybe [finding those who owe money]."
Since that money is so hard to collect, the Horry County Administration Committee could recommend to write off the unpaid bills as just lost money. That means almost 6,000 accounts could be wiped away.
Right now the county wants to handle the bills that were issued in 2009, because the money certainly adds up.
The overdue bills are from local EMS handling a variety of emergencies, from car accidents to heart attacks. No matter what the ambulance is called out for, the county charges up to $900 for the service.
Since we're talking about money that has been owed for three years now, some tax payers feel like the county can't afford to spend any more time trying to get it back.
"Just pass it and move on. That's what I believe in," claims Horry County Property Manager Jim Papadea. "Because it takes years and years to settle this stuff. Get on to something that's more important."
The administration committee will discuss a resolution to write off the unpaid bills Friday morning at 9 a.m. Then the recommendation will go to Horry County Council for approval next week.
The county says just about every year, a quarter of EMS bills go unpaid, and almost half of the people who dial 9-1-1 to get an ambulance don't even live inside the county.
Taxpayers say that's a problem.
"I consider it an issue. I would like to see them, especially if these people are using our services, [and] don't live here and pay taxes. I'd like to see them try harder to get the money back from them," says Bill Corcoran.
The number of times ambulances go out for calls has been increasing every year, while the money coming back in is going down. The source of the problem comes down to the actual billing.
First responders' biggest concern is treating patients when they arrive, so there are times when enough information isn't collected or a patient's information is wrong, leaving the county with no way to send the bill.
In addition, when former patients simply decide to not pay, tracking them down is a huge challenge. Despite the difficulty, the county says it's committed to collected the overdue amounts.
"Even though we have not been able to collect them, we will still continue to pursue those collections. And we've been pretty successful in years past of still collecting them past the three year time frame," justifies Horry County Spokesperson Lisa Bourcier.
There are employees who are assigned to just handle these unpaid accounts, and they work on collecting the money with help from the State Department of Revenue.