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Already Struggling Financially, EMS Providers Ask For Rate Increase To Respond To Coronavirus Pandemic

Emergency Medical Service Representatives: Responding To COVID-19 Adds $35 In Costs Per Ambulance Call

Facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, several rural EMS services have purchased protective gear through auto shops
Facing a shortage of personal protective equipment, several rural EMS services have purchased protective gear through auto shops. Here, Door County, Wis., emergency services workers, in blue shirts, work with fire and rescue volunteers from the towns of Sister Bay, Ephraim, Gibraltar and Baileys Harbor during an emergency call in Sister Bay, Wis., in July 2019. Photo courtesy of Tad Dukehart

Emergency Medical Service representatives are asking the state’s political leaders for an emergency funding boost to help ambulances respond to COVID-19.

In a press call Wednesday, spokespeople from four statewide EMS, ambulance, fire chief and firefighter groups said Wisconsin’s coronavirus relief package is leaving out funding for ambulance services.

Chris Anderson, president of the Professional Ambulance Association of Wisconsin, said $7.5 million would cover a significant increase in the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rate for ambulance services, which hasn’t been increased since 2008.

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EMS organizations have been calling for the increase for years, and Anderson said his hope is state lawmakers would fund a permanent increase through the state budget. But the availability of funds through the federal stimulus dollars could “kick start” the increase, Anderson said.

“We’re not trying to scare anyone into thinking that we’re going away. We’re trying to get the idea out there that we are in trouble, and we need help,” Anderson said, adding “there is help available.”

Wisconsin has no requirement for local governments to offer emergency medical services. As a result, ambulance services in the state often rely on a patchwork of funding sources, including “bake sales and fundraising,” said Wisconsin EMS Association executive director Marc Cohen.

“That’s not acceptable,” Cohen said.

“Local funding is so tight it’s just unbelievable,” said Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association president Timothy Bantes. “The funding level has gone down for years. Costs have increased. And now we have a pandemic.”

“There are no budget reserves,” Bantes said, “there are no funds left to tap into to help us out.”

The protective equipment and other precautions necessary to respond to calls during the COVID-19 pandemic is adding “at least” $35 per ambulance call to the already cash-strapped EMS services, Anderson said. And as WPR and Wisconsin Watch reported earlier this week, ambulance services are having a hard time sourcing the protective equipment needed to keep their crews safe.

“This isn’t the straw that broke the camel’s back. The back was already broken,” said Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin board member Jerry Biggart. “We need to do something and it needs to happen quickly.”