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John Lundy, Forum News Service, Published February 21 2014

Money sought as Minnesota falls to 12th nationwide in emergency care

DULUTH – Minnesota needs a $26 million annual transfusion of cash to bolster emergency care, according to a coalition of emergency doctors.

“I think we can all agree that on a day like today, with the hazardous road conditions, that we want a well-funded and trained EMS system,” Dr. Thomas Wyatt said during a news conference at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center on Friday morning.

Wyatt, president of the Faribault-based Minnesota Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, was part of a small delegation from the greater Twin Cities area that skipped a similar session in St. Cloud on Thursday to get to Duluth ahead of the winter storm.

They made the trip to drum up interest in legislation they say would provide the needed increase in money and training. They came armed with a report they say shows the state’s ability to provide emergency care is diminishing.

Conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians, the survey ranked Minnesota 12th in the nation for its “emergency care environment” and awarded the state an overall grade of C. That was down from sixth in the nation and a C+ in 2009, the last time the report was done.

That slippage is reason for concern, said state Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, co-author of the bill, H.F. 1967.

“I think we’ve seen this probably coming and it hasn’t raised much alarm,” Schoen said in a telephone interview. “And now with this particular rating, we still have some of the best care but we need to make sure that we don’t slip further.”

Schoen, who is a police officer and a paramedic in Cottage Grove, had planned to attend Friday’s event in Duluth but was kept in the Twin Cities by the weather. Coincidentally, he was responding to a motor vehicle accident at the time the news conference took place.

The state’s metropolitan areas have ample resources to provide emergency care, Schoen said. But that’s not true in much of rural Minnesota.

Patrick Lee, executive director for the seven-county Arrowhead EMS Association, said he’s particularly concerned about small hospitals, and emergency providers, being able to keep up with training.

Buck McAlpin, director of government affairs for the Minnesota chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said the $26 million called for in the bill would be distributed as follows:

- Seventy-five percent would go to Minnesota trauma hospitals.

- Fifteen percent would go to ambulance and helicopter infrastructure.

- Five percent to training for comprehensive advanced life support.

- Five percent to the eight state regional EMS systems, such as the Arrowhead EMS Association.

The money would come from a $10 annual fee on each auto insurance policy.

Mark Kulda, a spokesman for the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, said the trade group doesn’t dispute the need but opposes the proposed funding mechanism.

For one thing, Kulda said, the Legislature invariably “steals” from such surcharges, moving the money from its intended purpose to the general fund. Moreover, he said, auto insurance already pays for trauma services when an accident occurs.

The funding should come from Medicare and Medicaid, whose reimbursement rates are too low, Kulda said.

“If trauma services are concerned about it, and they should be, then they need to do a better job of going to the feds and saying we need a higher reimbursement rate,” Kulda said.

McAlpin said the bill’s backers have met with insurance industry representatives and are open to other ideas for funding.