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January 29, 2014

Minn. responders support taxing car insurance companies to fund EMS

By Heather J. Carlson

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Concerned about a downgrade in the state's emergency care rating, emergency responders are rallying behind a proposal to boost funding for the state's trauma hospitals through a tax on auto insurance.

During a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, more than two dozen first responders gathered around Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, as he discussed his proposal. His bill would require auto insurance carriers to pay a $10-per-vehicle tax per year. Those dollars would be deposited into a special account and used to support trauma hospitals, air and ground ambulance services, trauma coordination and training.

"For less than $1 a month, we are going to ask Minnesotans to help us invest in the training, the infrastructure to make sure we have those services available around the state from border to border, east to west, north to south," said Schoen, a police officer and paramedic.

To help build support for his proposal, Schoen is planning a statewide tour, including a scheduled stop in Rochester on Thursday. The effort follows the release of the American College of Emergency Physicians' state-by-state report card on emergency care. It showed that since the last report card was issued in 2009, Minnesota's ranking had dropped from 6th to 12th in the nation, with an overall grade of C. While that grade is well above the national average of D+, emergency officials say the score is still troubling.

"It should be obvious to all that we still have plenty of work to do to make sure that emergency care is functioning at the highest level in Minnesota," said Dr. Bill Heegaard, an emergency medicine physician at Hennepin County Medical Center who helped oversee the response to the I-35W bridge collapse.

Among the issues noted in the report card is Minnesota's lack of statewide policies and procedures for improving emergency medical services. It also found the state's response plan is lacking when it comes to addressing the needs of specific patients, including those on dialysis, those dependent on medication for chronic conditions and mental health patients. It also found the state has a relatively low number of Intensive Care Unit beds available in the event of a disaster — 226.4 per 1 million people.

"This report card should be both a wake-up call and a call to action," said Dr. Thomas Wyatt, president of the Minnesota Chapter of ACEP.

Wyatt attributes the state's drop in the rankings in part to increased demand for emergency care at a time when resources are shrinking. Between 1995 and 2010, the emergency department visit rate climbed by 34 percent, while the supply of emergency departments dropped by 11 percent.

Schoen said the bill would tax auto insurance policyholders because 60 percent of all cases in trauma centers are caused by automobile accidents.

The proposal would generate an estimated $20 million per year.

Not everyone thinks taxing drivers to pay for these upgrades is a good idea. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, said he has serious concerns with the idea.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
He added, "I think that we should fund emergency services on their own merit and not raise everybody's auto insurance premiums to do it."