Legislation To Aid Fire Departments Should Be Passed

It’s hard to find a good reason why volunteer fire departments should not be able to recoup the cost of ambulance services from a patient’s insurance plans or to Medicaid or Medicare.

New York is the only state in the nation that doesn’t allow fire departments to bill insurers for the cost of providing emergency medical care. Under current law, only volunteer ambulance corps — including Randolph Regional EMS locally — and private ambulance companies can do so.

Sponsors of the legislation allowing volunteers departments to bill insurers without having to create EMS cops said it would improve medical care for New Yorkers.

The Randolph Regional EMS example is interesting. Over eight years, the organization has grown from 21 volunteer emergency medical technicians and paramedics at its inception to about 45 current members, of whom two are full-time paramedics. Crews responded to 457 calls in 2018, with responses projected to increase to 600 this year. Over time, the company has purchased two additional ambulances and implemented its own fly car program. The group’s first ambulance leased from the fire department has also been paid in full.

Finding volunteers to respond to rescue calls is only one challenge volunteer fire departments face. It costs money to move that equipment — and that money has to come from somewhere. It makes sense that some of those costs be paid by insurers or social safety net programs that already exist. Allowing volunteer fire departments to recoup some of their costs without jumping through the administrative and legal hurdles of creating a volunteer ambulance corps could financially strengthen volunteer fire departments while also helping strengthen emergency response in rural areas.

Legislators have a lot on their plates before the end of the legislative session. Few bills are more important than this one. It should be passed.

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