By MATT HOPF
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
A report from an Illinois task force says emergency medical services funding is vital to continue providing services, especially in rural areas.
The chairmen of the House Task Force on EMS Funding, Reps. Lisa Dugan, D-Bradley, and Don Moffitt, R-Galesburg, recommended that $40 million from gaming revenues be dedicated to EMS services, including grants for equipment purchases, 911 call centers, training and the interest-free loan program administered by the Office of the Illinois State Fire Marshal to buy ambulances.
Other revenue generating ideas were a $1 license plate fee or a $2.50 fee for each tire sold in the state. A total on what is needed to maintain services statewide was not provided.
Districts throughout the state have had trouble with costs, especially buying ambulances, which can cost more than $100,000 each. The Adams County Ambulance Service has not bought a new ambulance since the 2011 fiscal year, and does not plan to buy one this year.
Ambulance service in Adams County has been beset with a number of financial issues in recent years with a change in its payer system, an increase in operating costs and the introduction of the department's sixth ambulance.
Even with many EMS providers struggling, there is no clear-cut solution. The task force met in Quincy in November 2011 to hear from local health care and EMS officials. Seventeen hearings in all were held statewide before the report was issued.
"It opened up the eyes for not only the legislators, but also those throughout the community in understanding the different needs among EMS agencies," said Paul Davis, director of the Adams County Ambulance Service. "The needs throughout the state vary, especially in the rural areas where funding is crucial to keep the ambulances open."
State Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, who served on the task force, said legislators could look at addressing EMS funding, but it is difficult with the condition of the state's finances.
"One of the things that would help them is if the Medicaid rate was increased, and that doesn't look to be like it's something that would happen," she said. "It would be taking from one fund of the state to pay for another."
The Adams County Ambulance Service receives about $67 per call from Medicaid, while Medicare covers about $350 to $400 a call. The basic service fee for patients is $700. For every $1 that the state spends in Medicaid reimbursement, the federal government provides an additional $1.
Tracy said she expects talks on increased EMS funding will continue in Springfield.
"It was the consensus that we heard -- especially in the rural areas -- that they are being asked to do more with less," Tracy said. "It's so critical of a service in the rural areas with the cost of their equipment and the need to meet the federal requirements to be certified that it's becoming a real hardship."
Training was also considered in the report. Recommendations included more online training classes, uniform EMS training across the state and improving access to education.
The report also suggests for the creation of a legislative caucus to help advance EMS issues and even a special House committee for EMS and possibly fire departments.
"The need is not going to go away," Tracy said. "It will just increase. We heard how critical it is, and especially with heart care and the like, your access to critical care as quickly as possible is just such a huge lifesaving measure that we have to make it a priority."