Jan Marcason: Decline to sign the referendum petition on ambulance billing

07/31/2014 2:08 PM

08/02/2014 5:14 PM

The city adopted a proposal, scrutinized during weeks of hearings, that saves taxpayers $770,000 annually, ensures job security for affected employees and meets the City Council-passed ordinance for a structurally balanced budget. Unfortunately, ill-advised opponents propose to reverse weeks of careful analysis and engage the public in an unnecessary referendum. So far, the petition effort has fallen short of the required signatures but petitioners are continuing to solicit support. Please decline to sign this petition.

Here is the background: The city’s adopted 2014-15 budget calls for contracting ambulance service billings. During budget deliberations, no objections were raised to this strategy and the adopted budget went into effect May 1. However, when it came time to adopt the ambulance outsourcing contract there was immediate objection from one outspoken councilmember.

As a result, weeks of hearings were held by the Finance, Government and Ethics Committee, which I chair. The budget director provided compelling testimony in support of the outsourcing strategy, including a reminder that the ambulance fund currently has a $4 million deficit. If this deficit continues, according to the director, adjustments will need to be made to balance the budget.

These adjustments could require reductions in support to our safety-net providers such as Truman Medical Center, or the Fire Department might have to eliminate some paramedic positions. Both poor choices.

After weeks of due diligence, a full vetting of the concept and careful attention to public testimony, the Finance Committee passed the ordinance to outsource ambulance billing and it was then approved by the City Council by a vote of 7-4. Before the contract could be signed, however, Councilman John Sharp rallied opponents to launch a petition drive to stop the process, based on inaccurate claims.

I understand that outsourcing often raises the specter of job loss for people we care about. That issue is firmly and positively addressed in the ambulance outsourcing strategy. No current EMS billing staff members will lose their jobs. The private contractor managing this service will open an office in Kansas City and hire at least 10 of the current employees. Employees who choose to stay with the city will be offered a comparable job with no loss of pay, benefits or seniority.

The selected vendor is a national leader in the medical billing field and has a 50 percent market share of this service nationally. The company has a 95 percent client retention rate, and we received numerous recommendations from clients of this company from around the country.

Contracting ambulance billing is a good deal for Kansas City taxpayers. It will annually save at least $770,000 in operating costs. The potential to significantly generate additional income also exists. Based on the vendor’s experience in other cities, improved processes and technology can increase collections by approximately $2 million annually.

This is why I believe it is critical for residents to decline to sign the petition asking for a referendum on ambulance outsourcing. A majority of the City Council carefully considered this issue and voted in favor of a contract that would save taxpayer money while enabling our Fire Department to concentrate on public safety instead of collecting bills. The City Council’s decision should stand and the referendum process should be stopped in its tracks.

Jan Marcason is the 4th District member of the City Council in Kansas City and chairwoman of the council's Finance, Governance and Ethics Committee.


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