At the request of the Chamber of Commerce, the Ketchikan City Council on Thursday opted to delay voting on an ordinance that would establish health care billing transparency in the city.

Chamber President Chelsea Goucher told the council that the ordinance is a great starting point, but the local health care providers affected by its regulations need an opportunity to offer suggestions.

Goucher says the chamber wants a health billing transparency law for Ketchikan, but the ordinance as written might need some changes.

“I think there are some things about it that might be problematic,” she said. “I think it’s important that we balance protecting consumer and business interests without placing undue administrative burdens on other businesses.”

As proposed, the measure would require all health care providers to give an estimate of “reasonably anticipated charges,” or a range of possible charges, within 10 days, if requested by a patient.

The estimate must include a description of services, supplies, billing codes, likely additional fees, and what the individual likely would pay out of pocket.

It also would require health care providers to identify other entities that might charge a patient in connection with treatment, and whether those charges are included in the estimate.

Goucher suggested delaying implementation of the ordinance. That would give health care businesses a chance to provide input.

Ed Freysinger is CAO of PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. He suggested establishing a task force to work with the city on an ordinance that fits Ketchikan.

During council discussion of the issue, members were fine with a little delay to gather more input, but were reluctant to drag the matter out too long.

Council member Mark Flora proposed deferring the ordinance “for a reasonable time frame.” But council member Judy Zenge wanted something more specific.

“If we’re saying that we’re going to extend it, I want – I work with dates. I wanna know how long of an extension is that? What are we talking?” she said. 

Flora changed his motion to state that the matter will return to the council on March 15.

So, PeaceHealth, the chamber and city staff have a couple weeks to gather input from various health care providers in Ketchikan before the ordinance returns for council consideration.

Also Thursday, the council approved rate increases of 6 percent for wastewater, 5 percent for electricity, and 5.5 percent for water. Seafood processor water rates will go up 35 percent.

Water and wastewater rate increases also are planned for the port. The council voted in first reading to increase those rates. That measure will come back for a second vote on March 15.