By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Emergency Medical Services Advisory Committee heard plans Thursday about how the state could move toward supporting and sustaining emergency medical services for Idahoans.
The committee was tasked with looking at data to advise actions that could be used to address EMS shortages across the state. A resolution that passed the Legislature earlier this year also established a sustainability task force for EMS.
Wayne Denny, EMS Bureau Chief at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, offered unofficial plans that the task force has suggested for the upcoming legislative session.
The first change is simple, he said. Idaho law needs to deem emergency medical services an essential service. Current law does not deem EMS essential, so the state is not obligated to provide any funding.
In 2021, the Office of Performance Evaluations published a report on emergency medical services in rural Idaho, highlighting funding and staffing challenges as well as pointing out that about 7 out of 10 emergency medical workers are volunteers.
Denny explained that the task force also hopes to request an ongoing EMS sustainability fund, which would consist of money appropriated by the legislature and distributed through the counties.
EMS agencies requesting funds would be required to be licensed and to bill insurance carriers for at least 80% of billable services. The proposal would be an annual grant process but with non-competitive applications.
Agencies would be required to declare the use of the funds, which would likely be for personnel and operating costs.
“I don’t think the legislature is going to give us $10-plus million and just tell us to do good work,” Denny told the committee, stressing the importance of declaring use of funds.
The amount of funding the task force will request is still being determined, Denny said, but he’s working to ensure they can provide legislators with an exact breakdown of what EMS agencies and the counties currently receive.
A small portion of vehicle registration fees and driver’s license fees do go toward EMS through a separate fund. In small counties, those funds are particularly minimal.
The task force also suggests a tier system based on geography that would impact funding distribution, Denny said. Tier 1 would be a very populated area where EMS response is expected, while Tier 3 would be a remote area where no state assistance should be allocated because EMS wouldn’t be expected.
Denny said the task force also believes the committee should be responsible for ensuring accountability and measuring quality improvement. The task force also suggested establishing EMS advisory regions.
The discussion on Thursday was not a final proposal, and Denny said they still need to work with county commissioners and legislators before a final plan or any proposed legislation is released. He hopes to have draft legislation ready by the middle of September.
The Idaho EMS Sustainability Task Force next meets at 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 15.