The lounge at the Washington Plaza Hotel was filled with tired EMS responders Wednesday night. With ties loosened and uniforms wrinkled, some of the participants at the 2012 EMS on the Hill Day reviewed their days.
From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. yesterday, the 198 attendees participated in six to 12 face-to-face meetings with legislative leaders and their staff members. They advocated for the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Improvements Act (S. 1696, H.R. 4018), Medicare Ambulance Access Preservation Act (S. 424, H.R. 1005) H.R. 4124, the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act and Field EMS Quality, Innovation, and Cost-Effectiveness Improvements Act of 2011 (H.R. 3144).
This is the third year the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT) has coordinated the event, which gives participating EMS providers the opportunity to advocate for the industry with their Congressional and Senate representatives. Troy Hagen, director of Ada (Idaho) County Paramedics, has participated in all three EMS on the Hill Day events. He says the Idaho representatives recognized the delegation and remembered their earlier visits.
This year’s delegates reviewed the results of their advocacy messages to legislators.
1. Line of duty death benefits. One of the four messages from the 2012 EMS on the Hill Day advocates, was the need to extend line of duty public safety officers’ benefits (PSOBs) to non-profit nongovernmental paramedics and EMTs who die or are severely injured in the line of duty.
Ryan Greenberg, chief of EMS operations for Vangard Healthcare, said that some of the New Jersey representatives were familiar with the issues and the EMS representatives due to earlier lobbying efforts. He said some representatives questioned why EMS providers working for hospitals or for-profit organizations should have this coverage.
Kate Passow, paramedic with the Sterling (Va.) Volunteer Rescue Squad, had refined her PSOB presentation to Virginia representatives by describing a scenario in which a sheriff, firefighter and paramedic are killed at the same incident. She hoped that it provided a lasting impression.
A general impression was that this one the most favorably received request by the legislative leaders.
2. Transition of military medics to civilian EMS. Not covered in the Tuesday briefing, a request to co-sponsor H.R. 4124, the Veteran Emergency Medical Technician Support Act, was well received. Introduced March 1 by Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, the Act provides assistance to returning soldiers by encouraging a transition-to-civilian EMS certification pathway.
3. Medicare ambulance relief. The Medicare advocacy of this past year was met with rolling eyes or statements that the representative had no more money to spend. This year’s approach of linking a one-year expansion of an existing relief while a formal study is completed seemed to be effective.
David Williams, one of the 21 Tennessee 2012 EMS on the Hill Day representatives, shared a challenge when making four different requests. There were staffers that specialized in such areas as healthcare and homeland security. He said EMS advocates presented to a legislative staff member who had no idea what the advocate was talking about.
That was the value in the color-coded “leave behinds.” These are a single sheet per request that summarizes the issue, provides pertinent background, asks for a specific action and provids detailed information on the next step, such as who to contact to co-sponsor the bill.
4. Lead federal agency. Advocates made recommendations to establish an EMS trust fund and designate the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the primary federal agency for EMS.
This request got the most neutral response. In Tuesday’s briefing, Patton Boggs Partner John Jonas pointed out that the contentious 112th Congress has issued the fewest bills since 1947. They have an approval rating of 10%, the lowest since the start of tracking public approvals.
Jonas predicted little congressional action until after the November election, then a traditional flurry of activity by the “lame ducks” before the newly elected representatives assume office in 2013.
Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam, speaking at the Thursday reception, urged EMS providers to continue to be engaged and provide feedback. “Get used to coming out here,” he said.
Congressman Charles W. Boustany, Jr., MD, received the Legislator of the Year award from the NAEMT. The Louisiana representative warned that “it is going to be a very ugly lame duck session” as all of the temporary Medicare extenders expire in December.