Taxpayers pick up bill

First Posted: 1/15/2009

It seemed like a no-brainer. County Manager Ken Windley said his plan to
privatize the billing department of the county Emergency Medical
Services could mean as much as an additional $1.5 million a year in
revenue for a county saddled with a high tax rate but struggling to make
a bare-bones budget. Windley said that the private firm is simply more
adept at collections, particularly negotiating the maze of paperwork
presented by Medicaid and Medicare. Almost as good: Under Windley’s
plan, none of the four employees of the department would have been
dispatched to an unemployment line; three would have been shifted to
other county jobs as they became available, and the fourth would have
acted as a liaison between the county and EMS Management & Consultants
Inc. But on the same night the commissioners told Windley to trim
another half-million dollars from the budget, they refused to adopt his
plan. Or did they? Commissioner Jerry Stephens, seemingly more concerned
about the jobs of four employees than taxpayer dollars, succeeded in
getting a proposal passed unanimously on Tuesday night that calls for
all four of the EMS employees to work for a year in conjunction with EMS
Management & Consultants Inc. Interestingly enough, Stephens’ plan is
essentially what Windley was offering, the difference being that the EMS
employees are guaranteed employment at EMS through the fiscal year. The
current employees will work to collect old claims, and EMS Management
and Consultants Inc. will handle new claims. Windley seemed content. But
here is the problem. The current EMS billing department dug its own
hole. According to county officials, it has managed only a 40 percent
collection rate, when twice that is expected. This money goes directly
into county coffers, and could be critical to the tax rate and what
services the county is able to provide residents. We would be confused
as to why their continued employment was given such priority except that
Stephens showed his hand. One of two black commissioners, Stephens
pointed out that three of the affected employees are black, and he felt
obligated to come to their defense. We remind Stephens that there are
many more than four blacks in this county who as taxpayers have a keen
interest in how the county spends their dollars. The bottom line is the
bottom line, and the county should be operated as a business, not as an
employment agency. We feel compelled to end with this. The Health
Department, facing its own budget issues, has submitted a proposal that
will eliminate five positions and put five people out of work. Where are
their advocates?

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