Riverdale council and candidates grapple over ambulance benefits

Oct 7 2011 - 6:14am

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RIVERDALE -- City council members in 2010 approved a policy that gives them and their families a deep discount on ambulance services provided by the fire department.

At an Aug. 25 meet-the-candidates night, council candidates were asked about their take on city officials and employees getting so-called free ambulance services.

Three candidates commented on the issue. One was Councilwoman Shelly Jenkins, who initiated discussion more than a year ago that eventually led to passage of the policy.

The city's personnel handbook says the city will bill the insurance provider for the ambulance transport of employees, elected officials, appointed officials and their household family members and accept resulting insurance reimbursements as payment in full.

In a June 7, 2010, voicemail to City Administrator Larry Hansen, Jenkins said she was "caught up in the middle of an insurance boondoggle with the ambulance service through Riverdale."

She said the ambulance transport of a family member "created a significant issue" for her in "the way that the deductibles were applied."

In a transcript of the voicemail, obtained by the Standard-Examiner through a GRAMA request, Jenkins said "insurance is not going to pay any (of the ambulance bill) and we're on the hook for the full amount."

She inquired whether the city could offer a discount.

Fire Chief Doug Illum said he prepared the ambulance service policy after researching a similar policy in Roy. Roy Fire Chief Jon Ritchie wasn't available for comment Thursday.

On Aug. 3, 2010, Jenkins abstained from voting on the policy, three council members voted in favor, and Councilman Alan Arnold voted against it.

The three who voted in favor can ask to put the reconsideration on a future agenda.

"I would still vote for the policy, but I would not have allowed it to pass to allow retroactive use of that policy, " Councilman David Gibby said recently.

Although the policy was officially implemented Aug. 3, 2010, a May 16, 2010, ambulance transport of Jenkins' family member was written off using the policy.

Hansen said the policy covered all billings then on the city books. Because the May 16, 2010, transport bill was still unpaid when the policy took effect, it was written off Sept. 1, 2010.

The city had billed the transport to Jenkins' Blue Cross insurance on June 14, 2010. Blue Cross did not cover the bill because it was part of Jenkins' out-of-pocket deductible. After a $15 adjustment based on a contractual agreement with the insurance company, the amount owing was reduced to $1,086.60.

The policy was not used to write off ambulance transport for other employees' family members.

For example, an employee's mother was transported via ambulance both Sept. 17, 2010, and Aug. 2, 2011. Because the patient was not a household member of the employee, payment will be collected without using a policy write-off.

Similarly, a Jan. 30, 2011, transport of an employee's grandson will be collected without a policy write-off.

In each of these three ambulance transports, Medicare/Medicaid was billed.

The city bills differently for employees who need work-related ambulance transports. For both a March 25, 2010, and an Oct. 14, 2010, work-related transport of an employee, the city's human resource director advised the city not to bill insurance, Hansen said.

"If we bill insurance for work-related employee transports, it works against us claim-wise," Hansen said.

No workers' compensation claims were submitted for the two transports, he said.

"It is something I consider an entitlement," Arnold said recently. "It's an entitlement for elected and appointed officials and employees that should not exist. It's an easy no-brainer that it should go away. I want to vote for people that don't vote for entitlements."

Councilman Don Hunt referred to the policy as a "perk" or "discount," but said it would be a misrepresentation to call it free.

Councilman Norm Searle said, "When I look at it in hindsight, elected officials shouldn't be in (the policy). They are voting themselves benefits. If it's a burden on them, they can request the fee be waived. Any resident's fee can be waived."

Both Searle and Hunt said they hope the council will look at the policy in the future.

Ogden and Layton do not have policies allowing ambulance benefits for employees or elected/appointed officials.

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