The recent agreement between the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association and County Executive Isiah Leggett on ambulance fee billing resolves one of the most contentious and divisive issues the county has faced in the past 20 years. Some thought an acceptable solution was impossible and that opponents should continue to fight no matter what the costs were to county-volunteer relations, to the effective operation of the county’s fire/rescue system, and to the county as a whole.
At best, however, we could have put the issue on this November’s ballot, where we likely would have won. But this wouldn’t solve the problem: The county executive could simply propose and the council could have passed the law again. And along the way, the divisions between the county and the volunteers would only have deepened — to no one’s benefit, particularly county residents.
As a result, the MCVFRA leadership took a different — and, we believe, more responsible — approach, offering to discuss possible solutions that did not require us to compromise on our principles, particularly our commitment to oppose any system that might deter some from calling 911 in a medical emergency due to concerns about co-pays or other out-of-pocket costs.
The most important provision of the agreement commits the county to pursue a first-in-the-nation system under which no person — whether a county resident or not — will receive any bill for emergency ambulance transport for co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses. While other jurisdictions have pursued such insurance-only billing for residents, we believed no person should receive such a bill for calling 911 for emergency transport to a hospital. This was an issue on which we would not compromise, and — to his credit — the county executive expressed a willingness to consider how this might be done.
We are confident that, with county council support, the approach will serve as a model for other jurisdictions that have grappled — like Montgomery County — with implementing ambulance billing in a manner that does not deter people from calling 911 and does not impose a financial burden on those in need of emergency medical treatment.
The agreement also strengthens the county’s fire/rescue system by providing much-needed revenues for emergency apparatus, facilities, and other essential equipment and services, including a portion of which that will be allocated to strengthening the volunteer component of the county’s fire/rescue system.
Montgomery County’s combined volunteer-career fire/rescue system is one of the finest in the nation, and these additional resources will ensure we can continue to deliver high-quality, cost-effective service for years to come.
And the agreement reflects a commitment to improving the often contentious relations between the County and the volunteer fire/rescue service in favor of a true partnership that is focused on serving the public’s interests.
Never has the need to work together been more important than today, as we grapple with ever-increasing needs in the face of challenging economic times.
While we are proud of how we have resolved this issue, there is still work to be done.
Some of the provisions in the agreement will require action by the County Council, and we look forward to working with the council to put in place a system that can serve as a model for other jurisdictions throughout the nation.
Marcine D. Goodloe
Eric N. Bernard
Marcine D. Goodloe is the president of the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire-Rescue Association, and Eric N. Bernard is the organization’s executive director.