Town Wants To Charge For 911 Medical Calls
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The town of Tracy in California's Central Valley is reeling from a recent story that jumped from a local TV report to a national headline. It's about a plan to charge residents for emergency medical calls, but that's not quite how it got portrayed.
Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler sorts it all out.
BEN ADLER: This is the TV report that started it all on Sacramento's CBS13.
(Soundbite of television program)
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible) dialing 911 will cost hundreds of dollars in one local city for residents. Laura Cole has more now on the rising price for safety in Tracy.
ADLER: The reporter went on to say, if you have a medical emergency, get out your wallet, but that detail kind of got lost. Stories about a 911 fee turned up in the national media, and calls poured into Tracy City Hall, forcing a scramble to clear things up.
Mr. DAVID BRAMELL (Acting Fire Chief, Tracy, California): It's not - it is, in fact, not a 911 fee.
ADLER: That's the city's acting fire chief, David Bramell.
Mr. BRAMELL: It's been kind of misconstrued as someone calls 911 and they're going to get charged this $300. That's not it at all.
ADLER: So what is it, then? Well, the answer is a bit better, though not great.
Mr. BRAMELL: If you have a medical emergency, you call 911, and we render service, you'll be subject to be billed.
ADLER: So if you're mugged or your house is on fire, no charge. If you have a heart attack and paramedics and the fire department help keep you alive, the city will send you a bill: $300 for each call for Tracy residents, $400 for out-of-towners. Residents and businesses can also pay much smaller annual fees for unlimited service.
Bramell says the lion's share of 911 calls to the fire department are now for medical emergencies, and these days, that's expensive.
Mr. BRAMELL: The obligation to provide an advanced life support level of service isn't currently covered through the normal tax structure.
Unidentified Woman #1: Okay, (unintelligible) your change, and you have a good afternoon.
Unidentified Woman #2: Thank you.
ADLER: Gerard's Deli is a popular lunch spot in Tracy, a suburb of around 80,000 south of Stockton. Smells of soups and sandwiches mesh nicely with the sports jerseys, photos and hundreds of business cards that line the walls. That's where Natalie Sanes(ph) and Rosie Gutierrez(ph) stood in line this week, waiting for their food. They're both young Tracy residents, and neither one of them like the new fee.
Unidentified Woman #3: It just seems kind of ridiculous because we've never had to think about being charged for something like that, that we just should have.
Unidentified Woman #4: Well, isn't that what our taxes are paying for?
Unidentified Woman #3: Right.
Unidentified Woman #4: So why should we have to pay extra?
ADLER: A few others I spoke with agreed but not everyone.
Here's Tracy resident Ed Ramirez(ph).
Mr. ED RAMIREZ: I'd rather pay the extra fee and know that it's fair and equitable for the community. I guess I don't really have a problem with it.
ADLER: Nor is Tracy the first city to try this idea out. Several Southern California cities charge similar fees, including Anaheim, whose program started way back in 1985. Tracy's fees will go into effect in the next month or two. The city hopes to bring in around $650,000 to help bridge a $9 million budget gap.
For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler.