SACRAMENTO, CA â€” Members of California’s networkÂ of emergency air medical providers are assessing how dramatically theirÂ ability to care for patients will be impacted if one of their primaryÂ sources of funding is not renewed by the California Legislature.
The Emergency Medical Air Transportation Act (EMATA) was established inÂ 2010 to specifically fund emergency air ambulance services by placing aÂ $4 fee on moving violations. The EMATA program sunsets on December 31,Â 2017, unless renewed by the Legislature. Legislation introduced byÂ Assembly member Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) that would extend the sunset forÂ this crucial fund is currently stalled in the Assembly.
The fee generates approximately $8 million for California’s emergencyÂ medical helicopter network, and allows the state to receive anÂ additional $8 million in matching funds from the federal government.Â Without this funding, air medical bases are at risk of closure.
“We recognize that the fees being tacked on to traffic tickets haveÂ become excessive, but without a funding source, we risk making theseÂ services, that are often the difference between life and death,Â available to only the wealthy and privileged,” said Asm. Wood. “We mustÂ find a solution for this critical piece of our state’s infrastructure.”
A significant number of patients transported by emergency air medicalÂ services are only covered by California’s Medi-Cal program. TheÂ reimbursement rates from Medi-Cal were last adjusted more than 20 yearsÂ ago. Should the EMATA program be allowed to expire, critical fundingÂ that minimizes the gap between Medi-Cal reimbursement and the actualÂ cost of services will be cut by more than half, which could result inÂ reduction of services and even force the closure of air medical bases.
Reduction or elimination of air medical services will disproportionatelyÂ impact rural areas that do not have immediate access to trauma centersÂ and children’s hospitals throughout the state – putting some ofÂ California’s most vulnerable residents at risk.
“In rural areas, emergency helicopters play a vital role in EMS and ourÂ ability to get the most critical patients to a hospital in time to saveÂ them. Traffic accidents, in places like the roads to Yosemite NationalÂ Park, present a unique challenge to us, where we are a long way from aÂ trauma center,” said Bill Caldera, EMT-P and chief operations officer,Â Tuolumne County Ambulance Service. “A $4 fee on moving violations seemsÂ like a small price to continue paying to ensure we do not lose access toÂ these lifesaving services.”
Air ambulances also play a critical role in transferring patients fromÂ rural and community hospitals to receive trauma care or specializedÂ treatment they may not have access to in their area.
“We strongly support the EMATA program as a way to fund air ambulanceÂ services. We have two good community hospitals in Imperial County, butÂ when we have a critically ill or injured patient, we rely heavily on airÂ ambulances to get them to larger hospitals in San Diego or PalmÂ Springs,” said Chuck Peraza, Fire Chief, City of Brawley in ImperialÂ County. “Because it’s like comparing the cost of a cup of coffee to the
possibility of losing this lifesaving service, the legislature shouldÂ act quickly to ensure this program remains intact.”
Air medical services are an integral part of California’s emergencyÂ response infrastructure throughout the state.
“Access to emergency air transport can mean the difference between lifeÂ and death for trauma patients, or someone suffering a stroke or cardiacÂ event. For these medical conditions, a few minutes of time can make allÂ the difference,” said Dr. Jim Hinsdale, M.D., San Jose trauma surgeonÂ and former president of the California Medical Association. “Whether youÂ are driving along the North Coast Highway, hiking the Sierras, ATVÂ riding in the Mojave Desert, or simply caught behind gridlock traffic,
having an emergency helicopter available can save valuable minutes, andÂ maybe even your life.”
Several organizations support the extension of EMATA, including theÂ California Children’s Hospital Association, the California League ofÂ Cities, the California Fire Chiefs Association, the California HospitalÂ Association, the Rural County Representatives of California, theÂ California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians, SaveÂ Our Air Medical Resources (SOAR), and others.
Proponents are asking the Legislature to extend the fee to protect thisÂ vital funding.