Press Release

Welch Heralds ‘EMS ROCS Act’ as Commonsense Way to Support Rural Communities; Brings Together Rural Providers to Discuss Importance for Vermont’s Emergency Medical Service Providers

Jan 5, 2024

Bill Aligns Medicare Payments for EMS Providers with Community Needs, Ensures EMS Can Provide Essential Medical Care to Rural Communities

BETHEL, VT – On January 5, Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) joined EMS providers at White River Valley Ambulance to tour the facility and discuss the Emergency Medical Services Reimbursement for On-scene Care and Support (EMS ROCS) Act, a bicameral bill that requires the government to pay for vital EMS services, regardless of whether a person needs an ambulance ride to the hospital. The bill was recently introduced in the Senate by Sen. Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and in the House by Rep. Becca Balint (VT-AL)

“It was a privilege to meet with EMS providers today in Bethel to hear their incredible work for Vermonters as frontline responders to medical emergencies. Their essential work and services deserve reimbursement. The EMS ROCS Act would require our government to cover the costs of critical EMS services even when a patient does not receive an ambulance ride to the hospital,” said Sen. Welch. “By modernizing Medicare, this bill ensures that EMS like the extraordinary providers I met today at White River Valley Ambulance will be paid for their invaluable services and will be able to continue to provide crucial medical care for our communities.” 

Currently, Medicare does not reimburse Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers unless the patient is transported to a hospital. However, EMS providers regularly deliver vital services on-scene when responding to 911 calls. In rural communities, the demand for EMS services for medical emergencies continues to increase—especially for Medicare beneficiaries, who make up approximately 40% of patients treated by EMS. This bill would provide Medicare reimbursement for care provided by EMS on-scene, when transportation to the hospital is not needed.  

“Simply put, EMS are the first responders to some of people’s most difficult moments, and often are the difference between life and death,” said Sen. Sanders. “We must do everything we can to ensure they receive the support and resources they need and deserve, and that includes reimbursement for all the care they provide. Rural communities in Vermont and across the country depend on their essential services and this bill is a right step forward in helping EMS agencies get fairly compensated for these services– even when transportation to the hospital is not needed.” 

“EMS workers shoulder incredible responsibility on the front lines of Vermont’s overdose crisis and in our pandemic recovery. Rural communities depend on these essential services to close care gaps and this commonsense legislation is critical to ensuring EMS get properly reimbursed for this lifesaving work. I’m proud to join Senators Welch and Sanders in supporting our health care workers and fighting for access to high quality care in every community,” said Rep. Balint. 

“Ambulance services across Vermont and the country are stressed by workforce shortages, high inflation, and increased labor and fuel costs. On top of this, our EMS staff respond to calls that do not require transport to the hospital and receive no payment from Medicare,” said James Finger, President of the Vermont Ambulance Association. “The Vermont Congressional Delegation’s EMS ROCS Act would help recover costs during these hard times. We hope for quick passage, and greatly appreciate Senator Welch and the Delegation’s support and introduction of this bill because EMS does indeed ‘Rock!’”  

Inflationary pressures, coupled with the increasing volume of services that are ineligible for reimbursement, pose a serious threat to EMS providers, particularly those serving rural and older communities. These challenges are forcing EMS providers to curtail service and, in some areas, shut down services entirely. In recent years, several EMS providers in rural Vermont have closed their doors due to mounting expenses, leaving local residents with fewer options for emergency services.   

Read more on the EMS ROCS Act here

Read the full text of the bill here