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Bill that would have allowed county volunteer fire, rescue companies to bill for services is withdrawn

February 20, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — A state bill that would have allowed Washington County’s volunteer fire and rescue companies to bill for services has been withdrawn from consideration.

According to an email from Del. Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, the bill and a similar one in the state Senate were withdrawn Friday, one day after the House bill ran into resistance at a hearing.

Serafini sent a short letter to the chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee stating that the Washington County Delegation requested House Bill 562 be withdrawn immediately.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, who co-sponsored a similar bill in the state Senate, sent an even shorter letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. Middleton requesting that Senate Bill 623 be withdrawn from consideration.

“There was considerable opposition and it didn’t look like the bill had much of a chance,” Shank said Monday. The Senate version had not been scheduled for a hearing, but rarely is a bill successful in one house when it has died in the other house, he said.

State lawmakers explained to local fire and rescue officials that there would be some opposition and it could take awhile to implement the effort, Shank said.

Washington County Volunteer Fire & Rescue Association and state fire association officials can research the matter further and, if they are still interested in pursuing it, talk to lawmakers about a bill for next year’s legislative session, Shank said.

Dale Hill, president of the county fire and rescue association, said other states have similar legislation, so association officials need to review how other states’ laws are worded and then determine if lawmakers will sponsor a bill next year.

Local fire and rescue officials knew there would be opposition to the bill, but Hill said they didn’t think it would run into as much opposition as it did during Thursday’s hearing.

The bill ran into resistance from representatives of insurance companies and some members of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, even though the bill would apply only to Washington County.

“They (opponents) don’t care it’s a local bill because it’s going to create a precedent,” Serafini said Thursday night.

The bills were introduced after learning that volunteer companies need a way to recoup costs, particularly for calls on interstate highways.

The bill would have authorized the Washington County Board of Commissioners to establish a system for volunteer fire departments and rescue squads to charge fees. Professional departments, such as the city of Hagerstown’s, would not be included.

Volunteer companies would send bills to insurers “for equipment, personnel or consumable products” used during a fire or rescue call.

A Department of Legislative Services analysis of the bill noted that “Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurers already cover the cost of ambulance transports under current plans and premiums, so insurance rates would not rise as a result.”

Nineteen of Maryland’s 24 local jurisdictions already charge ambulance transport fees, so “insurance companies that do business in Maryland are already accustomed to them,” the analysis said.

But Deborah R. Rivkin, vice president of government affairs for CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, told the committee the new proposal was much broader.

Volunteers struggle under the weight of having to raise money through bingo games and selling ham sandwiches, Glenn Fishack, the local fire and rescue association’s past president, told the committee last week.

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