Rural Ambulance Services In Oklahoma Facing Financial Crisis

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Ambulance services in rural Oklahoma are facing severe financial crises in part because of a declining tax base, low Medicare and insurance reimbursement rates, and a state law that requires the nearest available ambulance to respond to an emergency, officials say, the Oklahoman reports.

Since 2000, about 50 ambulance services in rural parts of the state have closed, all of which relinquished their licenses because of financial hardship, Shawn Rogers, emergency services director of the state Department of Health, said.

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By law, the nearest available ambulance must respond to a call in the event that a neighboring area does not have one available to dispatch. Counties and municipalities in the state do not have to provide emergency medical response services to their residents. Bob Hawley, EMS director for LeFlore County, said that "as long as communities can hide behind this rule," nothing will change to improve services. He said LeFlore County's EMS team often has to respond to calls outside of its jurisdiction, and recouping the costs -- about $624 per call to break even -- is difficult. He added that Medicare reimburses about 27% less than that cost.

The state Legislature last year approved a bill that created a revolving yearly fund with up to $2.5 million annually for emergency medical services development, which can help some rural providers restructure their services and train workers. However, the funds will not necessarily help those already facing financial problems, according to Rogers (Brown, Oklahoman, 12/15).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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