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Court will wait on ambulance service increase

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Magistrates want to see how health-care reform affects Medicaid, Medicare payments

By John Whitlock

People across the nation are concerned that the pending health-care legislation before Congress could affect the costs of health care in the United States.

Those concerns filtered down to the Owen County Fiscal Court Monday when Owen County EMS Director Kevin Luther approached the magistrates about a 5-percent increase in the ambulance rates to match new rates that Medicaid allows ambulance services to charge and be reimbursed for under federal policy.

But Luther’s proposal met resistance on the court as the future of Medicaid and Medicare is questioned because of health-care reform proposals.

Owen County Judge-executive Carolyn Keith said there is a lot of talk of millions of dollars being cut from the Medicaid, Medicare programs and is concerned about raising Owen County rates if the federal government cuts back on reimbursements.

“There is a lot of talk about cuts,” Keith said. “I don’t want to have an increase if the program is going to face a lot of budget cuts.”

Magistrate Theresa Davis said she is concerned the federal government could cut back on the amount it pays in reimbursement and leave people with higher bills.

“It’s not a good time to hit people with an increase,” Davis said.

Luther said over 80 percent of the people in Owen County who use the ambulance service are covered by Medicaid or Medicare and the service depends on federal dollars to operate.

Luther said the increase should be adopted before early February or it would be difficult for the county to retroactively adopt the federal increase.

“We don’t wanna fall back and get behind on the increases they offer,” Luther said.

Because of the court’s concerns, the proposed increase was tabled until the Jan. 12 meeting when the officials hope the future of Medicaid and Medicare will be clarified.

According to the American Association of Retired Persons and Factcheck.org, none of the health-care reform proposals being considered by Congress would cut Medicare benefits or increase out-of-pocket costs for Medicare services.

In a related issue, Owen County Attorney Charlie Carter said he wants to organize a system of debt collection for delinquent ambulance service bills.

“The way it is now, we sue everyone,” Carter said. “Even if people are willing to pay $1 a month as good faith it would be good.”

Because of the county’s recent problems with ambulance billing discharged, Carter wants to proceed carefully and make sure everyone is clear on the policy.

Carter said he would present his recommendations to the court in an upcoming meeting.

In other action:

• The court agreed to make annual bond payments for county officials. The bonds are designed to protect the county from potential liability and are mandated by the state.

• The court moved to spend $2,116 in leftover Homeland Security grant money for radio equipment for emergency services. The money had to be used before Dec. 30 or the county would lose the funds.

• Keith proposed regular traffic and background checks for county employees using county vehicles. Keith is worried an employee could be charged with a crime or lose their license in another county and still be able to drive county vehicles. The proposal was passed by the court. Luther said the ambulance service already performs regular checks.