Less of an Op-Ed, more of a Fact-Editorial.
On September 1, 2015, there was an Editor’s Note in the Emery County Progress that gave a short history of EMS in the county, along with a list of concerns and a list of possible solutions. It also noted that there had been a severe decline in EMTs in the county, trainings were few to nonexistent, and that there were holes in the on-call schedule.
The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) had a rule that stated paid-volunteers over a certain amount of hours were considered full-time employees and were required to be offered insurance or pay a penalty. With the variableness of hours of on-call time the Commission felt that it was not a good use of the taxpayer’s money to pay these penalties, and we had a deadline on when those penalties were to be implemented.
With these concerns in mind, the Commissioners focused on finding a solution.
I took the lead in finding a solution. I had meetings with EMTs and met with all the city councils to let them know what we were working on and planning. After months of gathering information, the best and quickest option seemed to be an Interlocal Agency. An Interlocal Agency is formed when two or more governmental agencies (e.g. cities or counties) agree to certain terms and conditions.
The County Attorney drafted an Interlocal Agency Agreement based on the model of Salt Lake County’s Emergency services Interlocal Agency because they had recently done something similar. The original draft was very general because we wanted the board of the new EMS interlocal agency to decide how they wanted it to function. It was quickly adopted by two of the cities. Several cities and numerous EMTs wanted more detail and buttoned up language. We tried again with more details and it was received better, however, there were still questions and concerns. Understanding change can be difficult, especially when things have been a certain way for so long, I continued to listen, answer questions and ease concerns. Unfortunately, rumors seemed to permeate and undermine the process, making it difficult to come to any consensus.
Now, with the election of President Trump and the promise of repeal and replacement of Obamacare we are caught in a limbo situation with the penalties. Recently, President Trump signed an “to minimize the unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens.” We could argue that these penalties on the county are unwarranted economic and regulatory burdens and therefore don’t apply anymore.
Something else was brought to our attention and we found out in December 2016 that Pennsylvania’s Congressman Lou Barletta tried to pass a bill, earlier in 2016, that would ensure that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) under the Employer Mandate of Obamacare. We had hope when looking into it, but it failed to pass as intended.
So here we are. With nothing. OK, not entirely with nothing, because of the work on the agency, we have a lot of work done that can be put towards the possibility of an EMS special service district and a great conversation has been started. However, in hindsight, sure, there were things we could have, maybe even should have done. Hindsight is always wonderfully 20/20. Currently, we are moving forward in good faith and with optimism. Working together on quality improvement, scheduling, recruiting, and training our EMTs to be the best for Emery County and its people.