The Ketchikan City Council decided Thursday to delay adoption of a health-care billing transparency ordinance, and instead form a committee to give recommendations about how to make the proposed ordinance better.
The council did ask that a revised ordinance come back in a month, to ensure the matter wouldn’t be delayed too long.
The council approved the billing-transparency measure in first reading on March 15th. City officials then gathered community input through letters, emails and a public forum. Health care businesses have been mostly critical of the proposed measure, saying it would add burdensome regulations to many businesses that have had few if any billing complaints.
The ordinance as currently written would require health-care providers to give a cost estimate for a procedure within 10 days if requested by a patient.
Council members acknowledged that the primary reason for the ordinance is the litany of billing complaints they’ve heard about PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center, specifically. Here’s Judy Zenge, who initiated the ordinance.
“Today, I had 21 people contact me. That’s a lot of people,” she said. “Some of them is billing procedures, billing errors. But a lot of them it’s because they didn’t know going in what the bill was going to be. And again, they all had to do with PeaceHealth. I didn’t get one call about any clinics. As I understand it, though, we have to do this across the board.”
Zenge suggested that a committee of stakeholders could look at a health billing transparency bill that the Legislature is considering, and perhaps mirroring that language. That would require estimates upon request of the top 25 procedures, rather than any procedure as Ketchikan’s proposed ordinance stipulates.
Jason Harris of Guardian Flight and a former Ketchikan City Council member, spoke during public comment and had suggested a committee. The council agreed he should be among the stakeholders asked to serve.
Also Thursday, the council made some changes to the proposed community agency grants program. Zenge proposed shifting the funding source for First City Homeless Services and the PATH shelter.
Grants are paid for through a percentage of sales taxes. Zenge wanted to fund those two organizations through the city’s marijuana sales tax instead. Her motion also increased funding for those two groups.
But, City Manager Karl Amylon said the overall result will be that the city will use reserves to pay the increased funding. That’s because marijuana sales tax money from last year went into the general fund – it was never held in a separate account.
“There isn’t new money to play with,” he said. “You’re actually adding about $12,000-$13,000 to the spending plan for 2018. That’s fine. That flexibility is in the budget. We have vacancies. That’s not a problem.”
He says the city can direct marijuana sales tax proceeds for certain grants in the future.
Zenge’s proposal was approved unanimously. The council also approved adding a $15,000 grant for the Small Business Development Center.
Other agencies, such as arts organizations, senior services and youth groups, were funded at the recommended level without changes.