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House Republicans urge passage of $120 million in emergency aid for ambulance services in Minnesota

EMS providers seek millions in aid from Minnesota Legislature
EMS providers seek millions in aid from Minnesota Legislature 01:56

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Emergency medical services providers say they need a lifeline from the state legislature this session to the tune of $120 million to keep answering calls for help, especially in rural parts of Minnesota.  

But a final deal at the capitol could fall short. DFL leaders in the majority and Gov. Tim Walz in their top-line supplemental spending agreement earmarked $16 million instead.

"This is not just a cry for help. For many services, it very well be the last gasp of air before we say, 'You know what, we can't do it anymore,'" said Josh Fischer, director of Stevens County Ambulance Service. "So we're looking to the state to support that statewide EMS safety net because every person that lives in and works in and visits our great state benefits from that safety net whether they ever have to call for an ambulance or not."

Fischer joined Minnesota House Republicans in a news conference Wednesday pressing Democrats to pass bipartisan legislation including the full amount of the rescue aid providers say they need to shore up EMS. 

He told reporters that his service alone has $300,000 of uncompensated care a year, which amounts to not getting paid for one out of every five of the calls they answer. He and others point to low reimbursement rates–30 cents for every $1, he said—as a key problem. 

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A legislative task force looking at the problems also identified recruitment and retention of workers as other persistent issues facing the industry.

The funding could help sustain services in the near term. 

"You're hearing from EMS across the state calling 911 to the legislature saying, 'We need help. $120 million is what we need right now,'" said House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring. 

Walz last month said the $16 million he put forward represents a stopgap to target the areas they need help the most. The state is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle; lawmakers will not craft the next budget until the next session, which begins in January.

They are looking at supplemental spending items this year, but on a much smaller scale.

"It's smaller not because we don't agree that the issue is of that magnitude," Walz said. "We think this does what it needs to do in the short run to get us to the point where we can talk about longer-term funding and solutions."

But providers insist the money does not go far enough. Lawmakers have under five weeks left of the session to complete their work.

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