The newly proposed EMS Fee will head to the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday with a recommendation against approval from the council's public safety committee.
Amid a contentious meeting Friday, amendments and details to the proposed legislation were hashed out between council committee members, representatives for the county executive office and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services. In a vote of 2-1, the committee recommended council reject the amended bill.
"I think [County Executive Ike Leggett's] re-submittal of this bill is the single worst decision he's made since I've been here, and I don't say that lightly," said Public Safety Committee Chairman Phil Andrews (D-Dist. 3). “It is crucial to make judgments that do not unnecessarily divide the community and do not send a message to voters that they don't matter.”
Leggett asked the council in April to reconsider the fee "in light of state actions that have intruded on council taxing authority and the looming possibility of a shift in half of teacher pension costs," The Gazette reported.
The proposed ambulance fee would authorize the county to collect a reimbursement from insurance companies and non-county residents to recover costs generated by providing emergency medical services transports.
Eighteen months ago Montgomery County residents voiced their disapproval of a similar EMS Fee bill in a referendum. During the November 2010 county elections, the measure was defeated by voters with 53.83 percent voting against the action and 46.17 percent voting for it.
The bill now before council is so similar to the original proposal, that to approve the bill would question voters' 2010 decision and create an air of distrust between county residents and their representation, according to Andrews and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1).
"At the end of the day I will be voting no on this measure because I do believe that the voters have spoken," Berliner told the attendees at the committee meeting.
Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-at large), also on the public safety committee, and Councilmember Valerie Ervin (D-5), who does not sit on the public safety committee, spoke in support of the bill. Both suggested that a fear campaign lead by those opposed to the bill contributed to its defeat in 2010, and that changes to the bill clarifying its intent warrant support.
The changes in the proposed legislation include specification that:
- County residents pay no out-of-pocket expenses relating to any EMS transport;
- Fire & Rescue Service personnel who respond to a request for emergency transport are prohibited from seeking any insurance information from those being served;
- An EMS patient advocate position in the Office of Consumer Protection will be created to respond to residents' questions;
- The Fire Chief will be required to report back to lawmakers about the legislation and its success;
- A public education campaign will spearhead the implementation of the measure, if passed;
- The name of the bill has also been changed to call it an "Insurance Reimbursement Program"
Other amendments, including one that would clarify the county's spending of funds obtained from the new bill, are still being worked out, according to Andrews. The bill is on the council agenda for Tuesday, May 15.
"I stand ready to change my position at this time because I think everything residents have told us that they had concerns with has been changed," Ervin said to the committee. She had voted against the bill in 2010. "The longer we have this conversation the more clear it becomes to me that this is not about a fee. It's about making sure people are taken care of in emergency situations."
What do you think? Is it right for the county to reconsider an EMS Fee after it had been dismissed by voters in referendum? Have circumstances changed enough? Do the clarifications change your position?