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Lead Federal Agency for EMS: Debate or Distraction?

Recently, Americans have been granted a breather from debates as the presidential candidates have agreed to focus their attention elsewhere.

For a while, it seemed that all the presidential candidates—or the media covering them—cared about were the debates. Gaffes made news and discussion about the debates was considered newsworthy.

Now, read those last few sentences again, but substitute “the debate about a lead federal agency for EMS” for the word “debates,” and “associations representing various forms of EMS” for “presidential candidates.”

It would be nice to be granted a breather from arguing about the nature of EMS and where it should be located in the federal bureaucracy.

Last February, the Federal Interagency Committee on Emergency Medical Services (FICEMS) solicited stakeholder views about the establishment of a lead federal agency and what it should do. The IAFC submitted a paper—drafted with the help of the EMS Section—and has anxiously awaited a decision.

The IAFC’s leadership and staff have continued to weigh in on the issue, participating in stakeholder meetings and meetings with various federal and Congressional officials.

While some groups have preemptively stated that a public announcement was imminent, the White House hasn’t issued an executive order declaring only one agency should deal with EMS issues and Congress hasn’t changed the status quo for the executive branch.

The IAFC’s position is that if there is to be a lead federal agency for EMS, the Department of Homeland Security would be the appropriate home.

We understand and appreciate the interaction EMS has with other federal agencies, like the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation.

We believe that prehospital EMS response is primarily a public-safety function focused on service to the community and the nation, not on profit.

Some EMS providers may continue to argue for a definition of EMS that isn’t true to the industry’s history or our promise to the citizens and patients we protect and treat.

While the debate continues, the EMS industry has had its reimbursement rate cut by the Affordable Care Act, nearly lost the bonus payments for Medicare ambulance service reimbursement and remains prohibited from passing along the cost of more-expensive drugs purchased due to major shortages instead of normal paramedic drugs.

These are major issues, not distractions, that the EMS industry can come together to address. Just as the issues Americans care about get overlooked for debate-friendly and provocative issues during a presidential campaign, the issues that affect our patients’ lives are being overlooked.

It’s time to take a breather and focus on finding real solutions to real problems.

Chief Rob Brown is the EMS Section’s treasurer. Tony Baker is a government relations manager with the IAFC.

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