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Trauma system bill gains

It would increase the minimum personal injury protection motorists must carry

SALEM ' A bill that Rep. Alan Bates said would put some substantial money back into the trauma system received a sympathetic hearing Tuesday before a Ways and Means subcommittee.

House Bill 3394, sponsored by Bates, D-Ashland, and Rep. Rob Patridge, R-Medford, would increase the minimum personal injury protection motorists must carry from &

36;10,000 to &

36;15,000. If an accident occurs that requires the services of trauma specialists ' physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians ' the &

36;5,000 increase would go to pay those costs.

I think it's going to fly, said Bates after a number of witnesses, including a representative of State Farm Insurance, testified in support of the bill.

John Powell, representing State Farm, said he will propose amendments setting out a provider fee schedule similar to the one covering payments under the workers compensation system.

— Ken Parsons, general manager of Mercy Flights in Medford, said that while &

36;5,000 isn't much, it is a start.

limiting the additional dollars to trauma services, it makes sure the money goes to the right place, Parsons said.

Too often an ambulance company employing skilled EMTs to stabilize trauma victims en route to a medical facility winds up being the last to collect its fees.

then, coverage may be exhausted.

It's very difficult for us to get in line first, Parsons said.

Last year Mercy Flight helicopters transported 110 injured people, with roughly 60 to 70 percent trauma cases. Parsons said 30 percent of the flights were uncompensated.

That forces us to cost shift, he said.

Mercy Flights serves a 150-mile radius in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The company, which is nonprofit, also operates ambulances in Jackson County.

The bill was endorsed by the Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon State Ambulance Association.

The shortage of tax dollars and the reluctance to raise new revenues has the Legislature turning to other pots of money to save programs.

Bates, a physician, originally proposed a fee on medical providers ' hospitals, doctors and pharmacists ' to generate new revenue for trauma care.

He ran into a firestorm of opposition from the medical profession.

Bates next tried to get an increase in 911 charges but again ran into opposition. He settled on the insurance plan, and said he was confident that would pass and be signed into law by the governor.

Increasing the PIP (personal injury protection) is not the total answer, but it is a very good start, he said. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of trauma cases are the result of vehicle accidents.

Don Jepsen is a free-lance writer living in Salem.