Maryland May Lose 'Trooper' Medevac Program

On March 4, there will be a rally in Annapolis by Emergency Medical Service and Fire Department personnel from all across Maryland to protest the Senate Bill 650, which is being reviewed for approval. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Picken and Astle, seeks to eliminate the current Maryland Emergency Medical Department helicopter program in favor of third party vendors.

Upon review of SB 650, it would appear that the state is looking to do away with the expense of the helicopter medevac overhead including the maintenance and staff by bringing in a third party vendor to do the job.

The use of third party vendors gives rise to a number of concerns, especially here in Southern Maryland where a medevac helicopter service is stationed in the area and the rapid response afforded by that close proximity has saved an incalculable number of lives.

In any serious and life threatening accident or trauma situation it has long been established that the first 60 minutes, or ‘Golden Hour’ is the most critical difference between saving a threatened life or losing the battle. It has been proven time, and time again that critically injured patients who are treated within the first hour of trauma have an exponentially better chance at survival than patients who receive treatment after that first hour.

Given the number of ‘Trooper’ fly-outs that occur in Southern Maryland, having a medical emergency response which has to be called in from miles away is sure to cost lives in the long run. However, there is more at stake than the number of lives placed in jeopardy by any prospective delay in treatment.

There is a potential for a severe economic impact to patients and families as well. In the current system, Maryland’s Emergency Medical Department helicopters cost individuals nothing. The costs of private, emergency medevac helicopter services can be exorbitant – the average cost of a personal ride from Southern Maryland to PG Hospital is/was $7,500 - $8,000. These costs were experienced immediately after the Trooper medevac fleet was grounded after the Trooper 2 accident.

However, SB 650 does not specifically address any real hard dollar costs. The bill does state that private contractors would be reimbursed by the state, but that is after any other form of reimbursement including insurance payments. While the bill does specifically prohibit billing patients directly; there is no language that prohibits third-party providers from billing insurance carriers for the costs of the transport.

The two most prevalent concerns by EMS and Fire Department personnel across the state is first, the delay in coverage and second, the potential costs to Maryland’s citizens. As one EMS volunteer put it, “There is a huge potential for everyone’s health insurance premiums to be raised because of this cost to patients.”

“The Troopers are available to us 24/7. [With] these private industries, we don't know how quick we could get one for a trauma transport. The troopers have been here much longer and we don't see where they have ever done us wrong,” said the EMS who wishes to remain anonymous.

He continued, “Why fix something that isn't broken. This seems to have come up since the Trooper 2 accident. I realize it takes a long time to do the 100 hour inspections and the cost impacted to fix these vehicles. We need to fight to keep them here.”

If the bill passes and becomes enabled, it is scheduled to take effect by Oct. 1.

SENATE BILL 650 Introduced and read first time; February 6, 2009

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