NAEMT lobbies congress at EMS on the Hill
At second annual event, focus on reimbursement, benefits, and D-Block
By Drew Johnson
WASHINGTON — Three key issues within EMS were highlighted by industry leaders and advocates during the second annual EMS on the Hill Day.
Organized by the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the event drew 145 people from 39 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Participants met with more than 217 U.S. Senators, House Representatives, and their staff to discuss the key issues currently faced by EMS over May 3rd and 4th.
NAEMT prepared their participants with information on three main topics to discuss with legislators:
The Medicare Ambulance Access Preservation Act of 2011 (S. 424, H.R. 1005) — This would provide extended Medicare reimbursement relief for ambulance services consistent with the 2007 GAO report that determined that they are paid significantly below cost. It would provide a 6 percent increase for ambulance transports originating in urban or rural areas and add a bonus payment for transports originating in super rural areas.
The Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act (S. 385) — This bill would extend the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program — which currently only applies to those employed by a federal, state or local government entity — to EMS
professionals employed by private, non-profit EMS agencies.
The Public Safety Spectrum and Wireless Innovation Act of 2011 (S. 28, H.R. 607) — This would allocate the D-Block spectrum for public safety and fund the build-out of a nationwide public safety broadband network around the D Block and adjacent bandwidth already licensed by public safety.
Of the three topics, the Medicare reimbursement act seemed to be the top priority for most of the EMS on the Hill attendees, NAEMT president Connie Meyer said.
"We continue to lose ground on this issue, and we feel like we're getting to a critical stage because if this funding issue isn't fixed we're going to start losing ambulance services," she said.
Attendees also voiced strong support for extending the PSOB program, as many EMTs feel they should be entitled to the same benefits as government-paid medics for doing similar work, Meyer added.
EMS1 columnist Jules Scadden – a Sac City, Iowa, paramedic and Director at Large on the NAEMT board – said the lobbying group built on last year's successes with this event.
"We improved on our numbers from last year and started to bring in members from other organizations" Scadden said. "It was impressive to see all those uniforms up there."
Despite a climate among some legislators that is hesitant to consider new or ongoing funding for public safety, the NAEMT visits elicited many positive responses from the legislators they visited, Scadden said.
"We got good responses, and we were reassured time and again by the legislators that they want to do what they can to keep EMS moving in the right direction," she said.
Meyer and Scadden both encouraged EMS practitioners who weren't able to attend, but who would like to voice support for these issues, to contact their legislators while they're at home.
"I've learned over my years of working with legislators that they want to hear from their constituents – not just from members of an association board. Legislators want to hear the individual's voice," Scadden said.
Meyer said NAEMT is in the process of identifying state advocacy coordinators to facilitate those types of meetings between EMT professionals and their local congressional leaders.
She also said NAEMT is also already looking forward to next year's EMS on the Hill event, when they hope to see another jump in attendees.
"The more people who come, the bigger the impact," Meyer said. "It's just a good experience for an EMT to get out there and get an idea of how the process works. To come to Washington and be involved gives you a sense of ownership of these issues."