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Paying to save?
A bill introduced to the state House of Representatives would implement certification fees for emergency medical responders, including volunteers.
House Bill 2141, introduced to the House in December 2011, directs the Secretary of Health establish fees for emergency medical services personnel and ambulance and aid services, which critics say could cause small fire districts to lose valuable volunteers. Currently, the Department of Health absorbs the cost of certification.
“After years of cutting and cutting without revenue, a lot of these costs the state has been absorbing, we just don’t have the money to do it anymore,” said Rep. Steve Tharinger, D-Sequim.
Tharinger said the difficulty with the bill as it stands is salaried responders can absorb the cost of recertification, but volunteers can’t.
Steve Vogel, chief of Clallam County Fire District 3, said provider recertification fees for both career and volunteer EMTs and paramedics could be $125 to $200 every three years. The district has 25 paramedics, three advanced EMTs and 61 EMTs, many of whom are volunteers.
Statewide, there are approximately 14,000 EMTs, with up to 60 percent serving as volunteers, he said.
If the district covered the personnel certification costs it would be $4,358 every year, but passing the cost on to volunteers could cause them to discontinue their service, Vogel said.
“They don’t do this for the money,” he said. “They do this to serve their community.”
District 3 can afford to recoup the cost if it must, but smaller districts can’t and likely would lose their volunteers, he said.
There is already a $110 cost to take the national test to become an EMT, he said.
There also are proposed service fees for ambulance providers of up to $200 per ambulance. For District 3 that would mean an annual cost of $1,600.
Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, is in the unique position of being both a state legislator and a firefighter paramedic with Fire District 3.
If the state provides a service for free to someone who can afford to pay for it, it’s best they pay for it, he said.
Private, for-profit emergency response providers could afford to pay certification costs, he said.
For small fire districts with small budgets, Van De Wege said he’d propose amending the bill so certification costs are graduated. Small districts wouldn’t have to pay certification costs and medium-sized districts would pay a less amount than large districts, he said.
The bill, which would generate close to $1 million per year statewide, is receiving strong opposition and may not make it out of the Ways and Means Committee, he said.
To follow the bill go to http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/default.aspx and search for bill 2141.