EMS World: California EMS Advocates Sound Alarm on Medi-Cal Gap

Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez and a coalition of diverse first response and labor advocates held a press conference calling on the state of California to increase Medi-Cal rates for ambulance transports for the first time since 1999.

Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez and a coalition of diverse first response and labor advocates held a press conference calling on the state of California to increase Medi-Cal rates for ambulance transports for the first time since 1999. California currently pays ambulance companies only $111 to transport Medi-Cal patients, the fourth-lowest rate in the country. The staggeringly low reimbursement rate impacts the ability of emergency medical services to attract and retain paramedics and EMTs.

“Over the years we have seen our reliance on private sector ambulances grow, but we have not kept pace with wages… the medical reimbursement rate must be raised if we want our emergency services to have sustainable funding into the future and for our workers to be taken care of,” said Assembly member Freddie Rodriguez. “We need to ensure our emergency services men and women doing the job every day are safe and fairly compensated for their work and sacrifices. This is not something we can compromise on.”

The call for increased Medi-Cal rates follows more than two decades of reduced funding. In the late 1990s California’s Medi-Cal reimbursement rate for ambulance transports was $135. This rate was cut in the 2010s and never restored, placing a burden on ambulance providers to continue to serve the nation’s largest Medi-Cal population while competing with other industries for employees.

“With an average starting salary of $15–$17 per hour, we’re seeing EMS workers leaving the profession to work in other industries like fast food and retail that pay more with less risk and liability,” said Shelly Hudelson, national labor representative for NAGE/IAEP/SEIU5000. “With the shortage of EMS workers and high turnover rate, a raise in Medi-Cal rates would allow companies to pay higher wages to keep our current EMS workers and make EMS a desired profession again.”

In early 2022 a coalition of labor and first response advocates banded together to launch Fund First Responders, a statewide call for increased Medi-Cal rates. Thirteen labor and first response organizations currently make up the diverse coalition.

“Every time we serve a Medi-Cal patient, we take a financial loss, but we do it and will continue to do so because we live to serve. But that’s not entirely fair to our employees. We’re not asking the state for big increases to line our pockets—we just want to break even so we can be in a better position to offer sustainable living wages to our employees while continuing to serve the patients who need us most,” said Jimmy Pierson, president of the California Ambulance Association. “We’re not an industry that is used to asking for help. We’re the helpers. But right now we need the state to help us by giving us a fair rate.”

Assembly member Rodriguez is working with his colleagues to ensure that the Medi-Cal rates for ambulance transports are considered during the upcoming budget negotiations. Prior to serving in the legislature, Rodriguez was an EMT in the San Gabriel Valley for more than 3 decades,

Members of the public are encouraged to visit www.fundfirstresponders.org to sign a petition calling on the State legislature to act. View the press conference here.