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Interstate reimbursement costs

Published (3/23/2012)
By Mike Cook
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When the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Department responds to an incident along Interstate 94 between Woodbury and Wisconsin, its expenses are not always fully covered.

National fire department protocol calls for extra vehicles and equipment when an incident occurs on a high-volume, high-traffic roadway to ensure a safe working environment for any emergency responder. “We’ve estimated the cost per run to I-94 is a little over a $1,000, whereas the average call within the district is right around $800,” said Burl Haar, a volunteer member of the board of directors for the Lower St. Croix Valley Fire Protection District.

Because many of the patients are non-Minnesotan, it can be difficult to track them down to recover insurance and other payments. In addition to receiving some tax dollars from the communities it serves, the department relies on the revenues from providing emergency services to pay for itself.

Sponsored by Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Lake Elmo), HF2836 would establish a pilot program to reimburse an ambulance service for unrecovered costs of attending to people on interstate highways. Although the program cost would come from the state’s General Fund, no fiscal note was provided.

Approved by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee March 20, the bill was sent to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

“Changes in reimbursement for emergency response has decreased $37 million a year as a result of federal policy changes, and as a result of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, Minnesota has lost in the last 10 years for emergency response reimbursement

$72 million,” said O.J. Doyle, a lobbyist for the Minnesota Ambulance Association.

Almost one-third of the state’s 87 counties have a major interstate in them, and almost half (380) of the state’s 743 fire departments are in the 28 counties. Of that total, 304 responsible for interstate coverage come from communities of no more than 10,000 people.

A companion, SF2416, sponsored by Sen. Ray Vandeveer (R-Forest Lake), awaits action by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

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