A legislative committee has decided not to move forward with a bill proposal that would have designated emergency medical services as essential in Wyoming.
The legislation also would have established an EMS account “for purposes of providing grants to political subdivisions within the state that are in need of (EMS) funding,” according to the bill draft.
At least four other states have declared EMS an essential service recently, legislative research analyst Donna Shippen told the committee last week, briefly outlining the details of each system.
The declaration appears to be “more semantic,” she added, with states adopting the designation “for different reasons.”
“It didn’t seem to be very meaningful,” Shippen said.
Wyoming EMS Association president Luke Sypherd offered a different view of the designation, however, calling it “an official recognition of the importance of emergency medical services.”
“EMS is severely under-staffed (and) severely under-funded,” Sypherd said. “The idea that the public recognizes EMS as essential … pulls a lot of weight with how that’s perceived by EMS professionals as they struggle to make call volumes and cover the many obstacles they face.
“Knowing that the public supports them is very important.”
Sypherd did add, however, that “simply saying (EMS) is essential” won’t “fix the issue (of) funding sustainability for EMS.”
“Having a funding avenue is imperative,” Sypherd said.
Some legislators on the committee encouraged WEMSA to work with insurance agencies in order to receive more compensation for EMS services, and Sypherd agreed that the coverage model is “flawed.”
“We do need to work with insurance carriers to figure out how to fix the system (and) compensate for appropriate treatment and transport,” he said.
Others pointed to new legislation that passed this year allowing counties to create their own special taxing districts to fund local EMS services, but Sypherd said “there is some concern about the number of special districts” counties can establish “placing an additional burden on those who have property (by) raising property tax.”
“We may see in some counties that it exceeds the local resources to provide that,” he said.
Jen Davis with the governor’s office said some counties are planning to attempt an EMS taxing district, but others have chosen not to because “they don’t have the population base to be able to leverage enough money.”
Instead, Sypherd talked about the potential to use lodging tax revenue to support EMS, reminding the committee that local governments spend an “enormous amount of resources and money” responding to emergencies that don’t involve local residents – especially, for example, along the I-80 corridor.
Another option he mentioned would increase fees for traffic violations and “other risky behaviors” in order to help fund EMS.
Despite the funding challenges EMS programs face in Wyoming, Davis said residents still expect a skilled ambulance crew to show up in a timely manner whenever they dial 911 and request emergency medical aid.
Several of those EMS agencies are “teetering on the edge,” however, and “we may lose some,” Wyoming Sen. Fred Baldwin, R-Kemmerer, said.
Wyoming Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, agreed that, without an essential service designation in place, it is possible for the state to “lose a local ambulance district.”
“(If) you can’t pay for it … tough,” he said. “There’s nothing in our laws that says the ambulance has to come get you. It just is kind of assumed.”
By contrast, if EMS is declared essential, Zwonitzer said, “somebody has to fund it … no matter what,” because there is a “requirement that you have to be provided EMS services under our law.”
“(That is) the question before you,” he told the committee before they voted last week. “Do we believe that when you call 911 … that an ambulance has to come? (Do) we believe, in Wyoming, EMS has to show up?”
The Labor Committee’s next meeting is scheduled to take place Sept. 21-22 in Saratoga.