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Should good Samaritans have to cover their own medical bills?

August 31, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • The accident scene where two women were electrocuted as they tried to help.
The accident scene where two women were electrocuted as they tried to help. (Rick McClure / Associated…)

Of course it's good news that private donations were quickly raised to cover the ambulance fees for two women who were accidentally electrocuted as they tried to help at the scene of an accident so that their families will not have this insult added to their grief.  But this is just the latest in a long series of tears in the communal fabric that now add up to a gigantic hole in our willingness and ability to help each others.

People are outraged that there are no waivers for people like Stacey Schreiber, 39, of Valley Village and Irma Zamora, 40, of Burbank. Or the off-duty lifeguard who jumped into the water in Vancouver, Wash., and saved a drowning 12-year-old, then received a $2,600 ambulance bill because paramedics wanted him checked for hypothermia. There should be waivers, obviously. But then, what about ambulance fees for, say, perhaps equally good Samaritans who are doing volunteer work when they are accidentally struck by a car? Aren't they also worthy? Where should we draw the lines on who should have to pay something like $1,000 in fees for a public service?

What if the person struck by a car wasn't volunteering at the time, but was a good person who happened to be the innocent victim of a crime or a car accident caused by a drunk driver? Is it right for that person to be charged? Maybe the guilty party could be forced to pay -- if the driver was insured, if the criminal had any financial resources or was even arrested.

The presidential campaign has brought to the forefront a heated debate over the role of government in providing services. How comprehensive should those services be? Who should get them?

But we crossed some lines we never should have crossed oodmany years ago. People, innocent victims or whatever, have been charged for ambulance and paramedic services since the 1970s. The public just either didn't notice or didn't care until it reached a high-profile news case attached to an obvious injustice.

As cash-strapped cities look for ways to cut costs and raise revenues, they are committing other breaches in their responsibility to the public. Should you have the bad luck to get into an accident in certain municipalities -- your fault or not -- as a non-resident, you'd be charged for the fire-department response. A lifeguard in Florida was fired because the city had contracted with a private company for lifeguard services that not only paid the guards salaries barely above minimum wage, but then decided to get rid of the guard because he quite literally crossed a line in the sand -- the line of the area he was contracted to cover -- to rescue a man on the other side.

Mutual aid, whether from one city to another or from the group to one of its members in need, is on its way to becoming an outmoded concept. Be ready for more examples, even fatal ones.

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