The summer season is officially here. As we enjoy graduations, vacations and holidays such as Independence Day, this is a relaxing time to be spent with family and friends. Sadly, too often these celebrations turn deadly because of drunk or drug-impaired drivers.
In Missouri alone, 870 people died in crashes in 2016, and 244 of them involved a drunk driver. Fatalities among teenagers in particular spike sharply during the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which has been dubbed the “100 Deadly Days of Summer” by the American Automobile Association. This must stop.
To ensure all drivers are staying as safe as possible, law enforcement officials monitor the roads. And when an emergency on the road strikes, air medical ambulances respond to lift the patient to care when called for by physicians and first responders. These resources, put in place to help protect Missourians on the roads, should only continue to be strengthened. Disappointingly, these lifesaving assets are under threat — and so are Missourians.
Through the use of high-visibility law enforcement techniques such as sobriety checkpoints, local authorities watch drivers carefully for any signs of not following the law, such as impaired driving. The function of these checkpoints is essential, because they help catch intoxicated drivers and serve as an important deterrent to those who might be tempted to drive drunk.
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Sadly, despite their proven success rate in helping prevent crashes and reduce drunk driving fatalities by 20 percent, the legislature voted to reduce state funding for sobriety checkpoints to just $1. We urge the lawmakers next session to restore funding for these services, which allow law enforcement to choose the best method for protecting Missourians.
Critical services provided by air ambulances are also imperiled. These emergency medical services can be a matter of life or death when tragedy strikes from drunk or impaired driving. This is especially true in highly rural states like Missouri, where many people live more than hour away from a Level I or Level II trauma facility if driven by ground ambulance.
Air ambulances bring that critical care into reach. They are ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, with highly trained medical professionals on board to provide quality care to patients during transport to the nearest hospital.
Unfortunately, patient access to these services is at risk. About 70 percent of emergency air transports are for patients with Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance. Providers are vastly under-reimbursed for their costs, and reimbursement is sometimes denied or not fully covered for patients with private insurance. This is not sustainable.
There is a federal solution to help preserve access to air medical services. The bipartisan Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act, supported by Missouri’s own Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Jason Smith, would address the Medicare reimbursement rate, which hasn’t been updated in nearly two decades.
We ask the remaining members of the Missouri congressional delegation to support this legislation. Congress should pass HR 3378 and SB 2121 to ensure that access to these services is preserved for all Americans.
We want all Missourians to stay safe this summer. That’s why it’s critically important that local, state and federal lawmakers do what they can to make sure everyone is safe on the roads and able to access emergency care when needed.
Through this comprehensive approach, we can put an end to the “100 Deadly Days of Summer” and focus again on what this season should be about: summer fun.
Meghan Carter is executive director of Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Missouri. She co-authored this with Carter Johnson, spokeswoman for the Save Our Air Medical Resources Campaign.