FARMINGTON — San Juan Regional Medical Center is asking the Public Regulation Commission for permission to increase its ambulance tariff by 35 percent to offset its annual emergency medical services deficit.

"We pick up a lot of people that just don't pay," said Ed Horvat, the hospital's Emergency Medical Services director.

The statewide, PRC-imposed tariff determines how much ambulance services can charge their users. Those rates have not been revised since 2009.

Right now, non-emergency basic life support with or without transport costs $289, according to EMS documents, and emergency basic life support that may or may not include transport costs $417. Advanced life support ranges from $313 to $715, according to the documents.

The hospital's chief strategic officer, Mike Philips, said increasing the tariff by 35 percent would bring in an estimated $389,195 more in revenues. But, Horvat said, it would not eliminate the EMS program's deficit.

Officials from the hospital, San Juan County and the cities of Farmington, Aztec and Bloomfield discussed the issue during the Wednesday morning San Juan County Emergency Medical Services Oversight Committee meeting in Farmington.

The hospital's EMS program operates at a deficit ever year, Horvat said. With seven ambulances, the hospital covers about 5,000 square miles and answered 14,600 calls last year, he said. Five of the ambulances are on 24-hour call.

Under an agreement the hospital has with the county and the three cities, the hospital runs the EMS program, and the county and municipal governments pay for its deficit.

The program's deficit reached more than $2.9 million in fiscal year 2014, which ended in June.

Philips said the current tariff is dated. The PRC has not allowed the hospital to increase EMS rates to account for fuel and living expenses rising, he said.

"Your second largest cost is fuel," he said in the meeting.

Bloomfield City Manager David Fuqua said those who pay for emergency medical services would hardly notice a cost-of-living increase in EMS rates.

The hospital's ambulance rates are lower than other EMS programs in and just outside the state, Horvat said. According to the EMS documents he provided, which list 2011 rates, emergency advanced life support services cost almost twice as much in Durango, Colo., and more than twice as much in Cortez, Colo. Non-emergency basic life support costs almost $100 more in Albuquerque, according to the documents.

"Our level of costs are so far below national average and even regional average," Horvat said.

PRC Transportation Director Ryan Jerman said officials have been talking about changing the 2009 tariff, and his agency created an ambulance advisory committee to consider the issue.

The statewide tariff should be adjusted periodically, he said.

"At this point," he said, "it's probably due for an adjustment, because it's like six years old."

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.