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‘EMS is dying': Pa. EMS say $20M reimbursement increase is not enough

After three agencies close in 3 months, state officials highlight the funding shortage



By Bill Carey

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania state legislature has provided a $20.7 million increase to ambulance reimbursement rates but many in EMS say that the increase is not enough.

“EMS is dying,” Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania Executive Director Heather Sharar, told “The Philadelphia Inquirer”. “How long can you exist if no one is paying you the cost for your service?”

A funding shortfall has led to many EMS agencies ending operations. Three Pennsylvania agencies closed in the last three months, causing other agencies to pick up the calls.

“We take for granted that there is always going to be an ambulance to respond if we dial 911,” VMSC Emergency Medical Services CEO Shane Wheeler said. “Increasingly, we are finding that that might not be the case.”

Wheeler said the state’s $20.7 million would only increase VMSC’s annual revenue by almost $45,000. “It is going to take a lot of $20 million initiatives to get EMS on a good, stable platform,” Wheeler added.

The increased ambulance reimbursement rates will be disbursed after House and Senate approval, and the House is not scheduled to return until the end of September. 

Wheeler noted that ambulance services do not receive increased payment for providing higher-quality care. VMSC tried to add ultrasound technology as part of patient assessment, however, they are unable to charge for the service.

Ambulance transports are more than “just a ride,” Sharar said. “You are receiving a mobile [emergency room]. It is not just the gas for the ride to the hospital. It is care. It is medical monitoring, treatment, and observation. It is a lifesaving resource that, unfortunately, nobody wants to pay for.”

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