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FireMed is still the only way to go in an emergency.

Byline: TEAM SPRINGFIELD By Bart Noll For The Register-Guard

In the early 1980s, Eugene and Springfield were new players in the ambulance business. A private ambulance company, which had served the area for many years, suddenly failed, leaving the cities to provide services. The cities turned to their fire departments to do the job.

A memorable economic slump soon hit the country, with Oregon's timber industry suffering a major health crisis. Fewer jobs meant fewer people with health insurance. Ambulance bills went unpaid.

More people arrived in serious condition at emergency rooms without using an ambulance. Emergency health care workers were committed to saving lives, and these trends worried them.

The tumult ultimately led Eugene and Springfield to create a program that effectively inoculated people against the high cost of ambulance service, while educating them on the signs of medical conditions warranting a call to 911. For $35 per year, a FireMed membership covered the out-of-pocket expense of an ambulance transport for everyone in a household.

That fee went into the ambulance fund, where it bought medical equipment and training, funded health education to teach people the early signs of stroke and heart attack, and paid ambulance bills for members. Eugene-Springfield became a laboratory for new life-saving equipment, including the world's first portable heart defibrillators.

"Save Lives, Save Money" became the message of a program recognized by 85 percent of local residents.

Today, we again face an ailing economy. Government budgets are tightening, and FireMed is still part of the solution. Now $52, the price has risen less than 2 percent per year since inception - making it truly affordable to everyone.

Meanwhile, the federal government balanced its health care budget by shifting its emergency medical costs to local providers. Sacred Heart and McKenzie-Willamette hospitals and the local ambulance providers are all suffering the side effects.

Those with commercial health insurance or no insurance are forced to pick up the added costs. The result is ambulance base rates of $1,150 in all three local ambulance services, with a 40 percent increase now before the Springfield City Council.

FireMed members put about $1 million a year into saving lives. They help keep ambulance service a self-funded program, not competing for scarce general fund dollars.

Under the proposed rates, a member must pay for FireMed for more than 30 years to cover just one transport. A good-government solution to a real-world problem, FireMed continues to save lives, while members save money.

With more than 80 other ambulance services adopting the Eugene-Springfield model, Oregon leads the nation in ambulance membership. And now more than ever, it helps everyone.

Members know that they may not use the ambulance this year, but someone they know will. And until that day, FireMed helps keep response times low, training and equipment on the cutting edge of medical technology, and people who live to save lives ready to do their job.

Bart Noll is FireMed director. Team Springfield is a collaboration of the city of Springfield, Springfield School District, Springfield Utility Board and the park district, which provide this column?on a rotating basis.
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Title Annotation:Springfield Extra
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 19, 2009
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