Pay-as-you-go emergency medical services not the recession 911 they seem
That having been said, the Santa Rosa proposal proposes partnerships with ambulance services that could help reduce ambulance costs. Also, as this piece noted, many municipalities already charge for EMS services; in fact, some towns and counties in Southern California have been billing their citizens since the early 1980's.
Recently, some news outlets reported that the town of Santa Rosa, California, would begin charging for 911 calls and paramedic services. Hailing this as some sort of apocalyptic recessionary nightmare, the reporters seemed to suggest that this was a sign of vile things to come.
The truth is that the people of Santa Rosa already pay for 911 phone calls -- as, in all likelihood, do you. Basically, almost all land lines (and many cell phone lines) charge a set fee for emergency call services. What Santa Rosa is doing is attempting to trim its budget by having citizens directly shoulder more of the costs of their emergency medical services. Again, this is a step that scores of other municipalities have already taken.
When most people are receiving emergency medical service, their minds aren't on the price. However, first response services aren't cheap: from buying electrodes to renting back boards, patients (or their insurance companies) can often expect to pay a small fortune before they even get examined by a doctor.
To help keep the price down, Santa Rosa has proposed a voluntary EMS subscription fee. Under this plan, citizens would pay $4 per month to support the town's emergency services; alternately, they would have to pay $350 for EMS services -- in much the same way municipalities offer sewer-line insurance. Clever idea, right? And one that Santa Rosa borrowed from lots of other California towns, which are already charging between $3 and $6.75 per month.
While the idea of paying for an EMS isn't attractive, it is preferable to having an area scrimp on medical care or reduce services to save money. If the price of a decent EMS program is the cost of a Happy Meal per month, then maybe even more towns should adopt Santa Rosa's program. And maybe the media should save its recession-induced hysteria for the nightmare scenarios really worth worrying about.