On Nov. 8, Sens. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced the Emergency Medical Services Reimbursement for On-scene Care and Support (EMS ROCS) Act. Representative Becca Balint (D-Vermont) introduced companion legislation in the House.
Currently, Medicare does not reimburse Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers unless the patient is transported to a hospital. However, EMS providers regularly deliver vital services on-scene when responding to 911 calls. In rural communities, the demand for EMS services for medical emergencies continues to increase—especially for Medicare beneficiaries, who make up about 40% of patients treated by EMS.
This bill would provide Medicare reimbursement for care provided by EMS on-scene, when transportation to the hospital is not needed.
“Vermont’s EMS providers are on the frontlines of medical emergencies. They should get reimbursed for that work. The EMS ROCS Act is a commonsense bill that requires our government to pay for vital EMS services, regardless of whether a person needs an ambulance ride to the hospital,” said Sen. Welch. “This bill works to modernize Medicare to ensure that EMS are paid for their lifesaving work and can continue to provide essential medical services in Vermont and across rural America.”
“Simply put, EMS are the first responders to some of people’s most difficult moments, and often are the difference between life and death,” said Sen. Sanders. “We must do everything we can to ensure they receive the support and resources they need and deserve, and that includes reimbursement for all the care they provide. Rural communities in Vermont and across the country depend on their essential services and this bill is a right step forward in helping EMS agencies get fairly compensated for these services — even when transportation to the hospital is not needed.”
“EMS workers shoulder incredible responsibility on the front lines of Vermont’s overdose crisis and in our pandemic recovery. Rural communities depend on these critical services to close care gaps. This bill will mean commonsense change to ensure EMS get properly reimbursed for their lifesaving work,” said Rep. Becca Balint.
“I’m proud to stand united with Senators Welch and Sanders to support our health care workers and ensure access to high quality EMS care in every community,” Balint added.
“Ambulance services across Vermont and the country are stressed by workforce shortages, high inflation, and increased labor and fuel costs. On top of this, our EMS staff respond to calls that do not require transport to the hospital and receive no payment from Medicare,” said James Finger, president of the Vermont Ambulance Association. “The Vermont Congressional Delegation’s EMS ROCS Act would help recover costs during these hard times. We hope for quick passage, and greatly appreciate Senator Welch and the Delegation’s support and introduction of this bill because EMS does indeed ‘Rock!’”
Inflationary pressures, coupled with the increasing volume of services that are ineligible for reimbursement, pose a serious threat to EMS providers, particularly those serving rural and older communities. These challenges are forcing EMS providers to curtail service and, in some areas, shut down services entirely.
In recent years, several EMS providers in rural Vermont have closed their doors due to mounting expenses, leaving local residents with fewer options for emergency services in close enough proximity.