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After nearly four years of effort, Rep. Amo Houghton has finally won his battle to ensure that Medicare pays for high-tech paramedic services in rural areas.

The Health Care Financing Administration announced this week that it had reversed its June 1995 decision to bar Medicare reimbursement for such operations. Houghton has been pressing for the reversal ever since ambulance operators complained about not getting paid by Medicare later that year.

"We've been working on this a long time, and I'm pleased that the administration has finally implemented our recommendations," said Houghton, R-Corning. "These advanced life support teams are critical, especially upstate, where they operate hand in hand with volunteer fire companies."

The rule change fixes a quirk that prevented "advanced life support intercept services" from receiving Medicare reimbursements in New York State.

Under the previous policy, Medicare reimbursements could only be made directly to the agency providing ambulance services -- the local volunteer fire company -- and not any private contractors working with the fire companies. But since New York law prohibited any payments to volunteer fire companies, those private contractors providing high-tech paramedic services could not get paid by Medicare.

Under the new rule, though, those high-tech paramedic services -- dubbed "fly cars" -- will be able to receive direct payment from Medicare. The new rule takes effect in 30 days.

"The paramedic intercept services provisions in the final regulation fill an important gap with regard to ambulance services for Medicare beneficiaries," said HCFA Administrator Nancy-Ann Min DeParle.

Walter Reisner, of Trans Am Ambulance Services in Olean, said the change was important for ambulance providers across the state. He said his fly car service has struggled without Medicare reimbursements, and at least one other service, in Salamanca, closed recently.

"It's a landmark that they have recognized that we need to be compensated," Reisner said.

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