Surprise plan emerges to solve KC’s ambulance billing mess

08/29/2014 4:38 PM

08/29/2014 6:01 PM

A surprise plan has emerged to help Mayor Sly James and his supporters win at least a partial victory for taxpayers in the battle over ambulance billing in Kansas City.

But first, start with the bad news that came Thursday.

That’s when James and the council repealed a vote they had taken earlier this year to privatize the billing with help from a firm linked to Intermedix Corp. Under that plan, 16 or so employees now in the billing division of the Fire Department could have had to take jobs elsewhere at City Hall; some could have gone to work for the Intermedix subsidiary.

However, council member John Sharp and the city unions fought the move, even putting together a petition drive to force a vote on this minor decision by elected officials.

After James and the council on Thursday caved in to this union pressure, I tweeted it was a “spineless” move.

James later tweeted back that I didn’t have the full story.

A spokeswoman for the mayor provided that version Friday morning, which council member Jan Marcason later confirmed in an interview.

From the mayor’s office:

“The other side of the story is that an agreement was reached where Intermedix will provide consulting and software to the city’s employees in order to increase efficiency and collections in our medical billing processes. The city employees in that role will remain employees of the city. So, in short, Intermedix is still going to be able to help us increase efficiency/collections, but the employees’ status will not be changed.”

Marcason said the city would sign a contract worth $250,000 to do this work — an amount under the level that needs approval by the council.

So City Manager Troy Schulte can go ahead and do that on his own. Schulte, a supporter of privatization in this manner, said Friday he liekly would approve the contract, once a good deal is reached.

However, he pointed out that a new deal — while it could push revenues up — would not help the city reduce costs by eliminating employees on its payroll.

Essentially, this Plan B means the union employees keep their jobs, but the city — with help from the private sector — might be able to improve how it handles its billing functions. That could bring in more money from ambulance patients.

That makes it appear James and his crew might have outfoxed supporters of the status quo.

Why is that important? Because the city will still have the opportunity eventually to free up funds used to provide emergency medical responses for other basic public services.

That would be a real win for the city and for taxpayers.

Naturally, we’ll now watch to see whether Sharp and the unions want to keep up this fight, or claim victory and go home.

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