Council OKs EMSA rate hike but attaches sunset clause
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
6/27/12 at 7:29 AM
Read past stories and view documents related to the Tulsa World’s investigation of EMSA’s billing and spending practices.
Read continuing coverage of Tulsa’s City Council.
Tulsa's City Council narrowly approved an increase Tuesday to EMSA's emergency ambulance transport rate from $1,100 to $1,300 effective July 1.
But in the 5-3 vote at a special meeting, councilors agreed to the rate hike only through Dec. 31, which they hope is enough time to get the results of an investigative audit of the agency.
EMSA CEO Steve Williamson informed the council that the State Auditor and Inspector's Office asked if August would be a good time to start the investigative audit.
Because that's when the agency's regular annual financial audit will be conducted, Williamson said, he countered with September.
The investigative audit is expected to take between 90 days and six months.
EMSA's board voted in May to pursue the audit after the Tulsa World's coverage of its billing and collections practices, travel expenses and possible conflicts of interest.
Several councilors were hesitant to agree to the rate increase until the audit is complete, but were also worried about the impact to the roughly $1.8 million rate stabilization fund.
Williamson said not approving the increase would consume $133,000 a month from the fund due to higher costs.
"I don't think we should refuse the rate increase based on conclusions that we don't even have at this point," said Councilor Phil Lakin, who is also a city appointee to EMSA's board.
But councilors were advised by city legal staff that if they did approve the increase, they couldn't lower it later without EMSA or the administration requesting the decrease.
As a compromise, Council Chairman G.T. Bynum suggested having a sunset clause on the increase and having the council revisit the issue once the audit is complete. If, for some reason, the audit results are delayed, another short-term extension could be granted.
Bynum, Lakin and Councilors Jeannie Cue, Skip Steele and David Patrick voted in favor of the increase, and Councilors Blake Ewing, Karen Gilbert and Jack Henderson voted against. Councilor Tom Mansur was absent.
The increase will mean about $1.3 million annually to the agency and is to pay for higher costs of supplies, fuel and contracted paramedic salary raises.
It does not affect the optional $3.64 per month utility fee for households to be part of EMSA's TotalCare program to avoid out-of-pocket ambulance expenses.
Medicare and Medicaid patients, who make up the bulk of EMSA's emergency transports, also are not affected.
Williamson said the increase will primarily be paid by private insurance companies that are billed.
EMSA's per mile fee of $9, which is added to the transport fee, is not changing, and neither is the $345 nonemergency transport rate.
EMSA operates as two divisions: Tulsa's Eastern Division and Oklahoma City's Western Division. Oklahoma City's council approved the same increase last week, but made it open-ended.
The $1,100 rate has been the same since 2007, when the TotalCare program was developed. Before then, it was $435.
Ambulance transport rates
Per mile: $9
Per mile: $15
Per mile: $13
Per mile: $12
Per mile: $21
Per mile: $12
Per mile: $12
Original Print Headline: Council OKs rate hike for EMSA
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
EMSA CEO Steve Williamson: He said not approving the increase would consume $133,000 a month from a $1.8 million rate stabilization fund