- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 19, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — Two private firms made a pitch yesterday to play a larger role in flying critically injured people from accident scenes to hospitals, a role now filled primarily by state police helicopters.

“We do not advocate a dismantling of the state police system. We do advocate an integration into the system,” said James Bothwell, chief operating officer for STAT MedEvac.

Mr. Bothwell and Ed Rupert, program director for MedSTAR, said that for the most part, they are not called on to transport accident victims even when they could get to a scene faster than a state police helicopter.

“We would support total integration of our aircraft into the emergency medical system of the state of Maryland,” Mr. Rupert said.

Representatives of the two companies said about three-quarters of their flights in Maryland involve transferring critically ill patients from one hospital to another.

The comments came during testimony before a special joint committee of the Senate and House of Delegates that is studying the various components of the state’s emergency medical response system, including helicopters, trauma centers and fire and rescue companies.

John Ashworth, chief executive officer of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, said he stands “firmly behind the Maryland State Police” and relies on state police to get accident victims quickly to the university’s trauma center.

“We believe very firmly in the mix we have right now,” he said. “We think that is an absolutely superb use of our resources.”

The two companies were questioned by committee members about whether expanded use of private helicopters would drive up costs to accident victims.

State police helicopters provide a free service. Costs are paid through a surcharge Maryland residents pay on vehicle-registration fees.

Mr. Rupert and Mr. Bothwell said there would be little impact on individuals or on overall costs.

Mr. Bothwell said about 45 percent of the flights made by STAT MedEvac are paid for by the federal government under Medicaid and Medicare programs. Commercial insurance companies cover another 45 percent of the flights.

The remaining 10 percent are the responsibility of people who do not have private or government insurance, Mr. Bothwell said.

The cost is deeply discounted for private individuals, averaging about $880, he said. In cases where people can’t pay, the debt is often written off; in other cases, the companies arrange for periodic payments over two or three years, Mr. Bothwell said.

Only rarely does his company turn debts over to collection agencies, and then only in the case of people who refuse to respond to requests for payment, he said.

The two witnesses said their standards for safety and medical care match those of state police. With speed such a critical element in whether severely injured accident victims will survive, Mr. Bothwell and Mr. Rupert said they should be called on when state police helicopters are tied up elsewhere and they can get to the scene quicker.

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