Some seek delay of copter purchase

The Baltimore Sun

Facing strong opposition in the General Assembly, proponents of reforming or privatizing Maryland's embattled medevac system are hoping to delay the purchase of new helicopters that state police have been requesting for years.

Senators are scheduled to debate today a bipartisan bill that would require the governor to consider allowing a private company to take over the police-run helicopter transport system, which has been under scrutiny since a fatal crash in September and a critical legislative audit last year.

But a House of Delegates study panel released a report yesterday that strongly endorsed maintaining police control over the medevac fleet, and recommended that the aging helicopters be replaced at an expedited pace, starting with the purchase of three $20 million aircraft next year. That report, unveiled yesterday by House Speaker Michael E. Busch, makes the passage of any major reform bill appear unlikely this year.

"What we can hope for is a delay," said Mike Allen, an executive with Colorado-based Air Methods Corp., which hopes to eventually persuade the state to allow it or another private air ambulance company to assume the state's medevac operations.

Allen said his company could offer air ambulance services at lower cost than the state police. The House panel concluded that savings would be negligible, though its chairman, Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., acknowledged yesterday that costs to run the state program were likely to increase, perhaps requiring further funding by the legislature or some form of patient billing.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said yesterday that he thought the House's conclusions about preserving Maryland's EMS system were "on the right track," but he said he was "not sure" the $60 million acquisition should go forward immediately.

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