With Multnomah County's unemployment rate hovering near 11 percent and health-insurance premiums skyrocketing, now is no time to jack up prices for people facing a medical emergency.

For trying to raise the cost of ambulance service on Portlanders in the midst of a recession, we're giving American Medical Response a ride to the Rogue clinic.

Since 1995, Colorado-based AMR has held an exclusive contract to provide ambulance service in Multnomah County. Each year, the county lets AMR increase the rates it charges to patients based on annual increases in the federal consumer price index—usually resulting in a hike of about 3 percent.

But this year AMR ran into a problem. The recession meant the CPI actually shrank in 2009, giving AMR no automatic rate increase as in years past. And the news couldn't have come at a worse time for the company, which got hit last year in Multnomah County Circuit Court with a $3.3 million jury award in a lawsuit by the sexual-assault victims of former AMR paramedic Lannie Haszard. And AMR also settled for a reported $600,000 with the family of James Chasse Jr. for his 2006 death in police custody.

When AMR learned it would get no automatic rate increase this spring, the ambulance carrier audaciously asked the county for a bonus 12-percent rate increase instead. In documents filed with the county, AMR justified that by saying its profits aren't rising as quickly as the cost of doing business.

If AMR gets its wish, rates will jump from $892 per ride plus $20 a mile to $999 per ride plus $23 a mile. Those costs are charged directly to patients, usually paid by their insurance. AMR acknowledges the increase would result in higher co-pays.

Hearings examiner Allan Arlow held a hearing on the rate increase May 20. He's expected to make his ruling within a month. But an oversight board or the county board of commissioners could overturn his decision.

Without the increase, the company still expects to rake in $1 million this year in Multnomah County.

In the midst of this recession, we say AMR should take that million and be happy, without raising rates.

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