*Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify Kelly Fajardo’s role.
Earlier this year, the VA issued a rule that aims to change the rates at which the VA pays for medical transportation. The new rates would apply in instances where the VA and the ambulance company don’t have a set contract.
The idea dates back to 2020 when the VA proposed the change. Now, it’s set to go into effect in February of next year. However, some in the healthcare industry are voicing concerns that the changes could hurt veterans who use ambulance and airlift services in parts of New Mexico.
“Veterans using theses services would have to pay out of pocket,” Kelly Fajardo, speaking on behalf of a local coalition for emergency services overseen by the Global Medical Response Team, told lawmakers in a Military and Veterans Committee meeting Monday. “We’re just trying to make this equitable and fair for the veterans.”
Fajardo and Retired Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence Baker, Jr., the human resources director for Sierra Vista Hospital in Truth or Consequences, explained to lawmakers that they expect the rule to effectively allow the VA to cover significantly less of the cost for ambulance rides, leaving either the veteran patients or the local hospitals to foot the bill. “We are already underfunded,” Baker told the committee.
Democratic New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, who represents central New Mexico, has already sent a letter to the VA explaining that the rule change could jeopardize rural ambulance services. In response to those sorts of concerns, the VA explains that rural vendors can enter into contracts with the VA and set an individualized rate, one that the VA might justify based on local considerations. The VA further claims that their estimates show the rule will not significantly impact ambulance service providers’ bottom lines.
Some of New Mexico’s lawmakers opposed the VA rule on the idea that any potential cut to ambulance service revenue could lead to the death of the service.
“Running EMS in New Mexico, they’ve almost made it impossible,” Rep. Harlan Vincent (R-Lincoln & Otero) said in the committee meeting. “You [EMS] don’t get no [sic.] money for pay, and the only thing that kind of keeps the ambulance alive is if you have to transport a patient to Albuquerque. . . [the VA rule] doesn’t work. It makes no sense.”
Local lawmakers are planning on sending a letter to the state’s congressional representatives in Washington, D.C. asking them to support a bill to combat the VA rule. That bill, the VA Emergency Transportation Access Act, would effectively limit the VA secretary’s ability to change reimbursement rates for ambulance services.