New Law Creates Public Safety Broadband Network, Increases Reimbursement for Ambulance Transport

Last month, the President signed into law legislation (H.R. 3630) allocating 10 MHz of radio spectrum in the 700 MHz band (commonly referred to as the “D-Block”) to public safety for the purpose of building a nationwide broadband communications network. Also included in H.R. 3630 was language extending reimbursement rate increases for various medical services, including ambulance transport, through Medicare.

The new law creates a First Responder Network Authority within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and provides seven billion dollars along with a license to use the D-Block and adjacent public safety spectrum to build the network. It also provides funding for public safety research and development activities including deployment of Next Generation 9-1-1 services, which will complement the capabilities of the new broadband public safety communications network. The creation of a nationwide broadband public safety communications network has been a top legislative priority for the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) since 2010.

“This is a tremendous victory for the volunteer emergency services and public safety in general,” said NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. “I’d like to thank Congress for passing this important legislation and especially Senators John Rockefeller, IV (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) as well as Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) for their support. I’d like to thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for their support as well. Finally, I’d like to thank our members and all of the other public safety organizations who really worked hard to build support for this bill and push it over the finish line.”

A 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the reimbursement rate paid by Medicare falls short of the actual cost of providing service and that this shortfall is most pronounced in areas with low population density. Under H.R. 3630, previously-enacted increases in Medicare reimbursement rates for ambulance transport that were set to expire are extended through the end of 2012 at a rate of two percent for urban, three percent for rural, and 22.6 percent for super rural ground ambulance transport. 

“I’m pleased that this legislation has passed preventing an automatic reduction in Medicare reimbursement rates that would have been catastrophic for emergency medical care providers and patients,” said NVFC EMS/Rescue Section Chair Ken Knipper. “This gives us another window of time to try to fix this once and for all.  Reimbursement rates need to be set at a level that actually covers the cost of providing service and we need a long-term solution so that Congress doesn’t have to keep passing extension bills at the last minute.”