The Oklahoma City Council will make sure it has a say on any future changes to the Emergency Medical Services Authority's TotalCare program if a proposed modification to city code passes.
TotalCare provides emergency ambulance service to participating residents.
The proposed change would put TotalCare's rules into the section of city code that deals with the city's relationship with EMSA, which manages the ambulance service in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and many of their suburbs.
In effect, any change to TotalCare would then have to be approved by the city council because of the rules' presence in city ordinances.
A public hearing for the proposed change is set for Tuesday's city council meeting. A potential vote is set for July 17.
The potential change comes as a result of confusion expressed in recent months by some city residents about TotalCare and what it provides, said city Budget Director Doug Dowler. EMSA and TotalCare were a focus of records reviews by The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World this year and in late 2011 examining EMSA's finances, and feedback from the resulting stories revealed the confusion.
TotalCare provides emergency ambulance service to every resident of a participating address without any out-of-pocket expenses. It is available for a fee of about $3.65 per month, depending on the city, payable directly to EMSA or as an additional charge on utility bills.
Making it clear
The only change to TotalCare in nearly two decades of existence has been an extension of time for some residents to provide insurance information from 30 days to 60 days.
“There really haven't been any major changes to it (TotalCare) so far,” Dowler said. “We're just trying to make it very transparent that these are the rules of the program. You don't have to look somewhere else; they're in the city ordinance.”
EMSA is supportive of the effort.
“We think it clarifies it for everyone,” EMSA spokeswoman Kelli Bruer said. “We can always do a better job of communicating with residents and the council and everyone about the benefits and the responsibilities of the program.”
Deadbeat bill payers
One other proposed change included in the measure is to remove people from the TotalCare beneficiaries list who have fallen behind on their Oklahoma City trash bill payments.
EMSA verifies a person's TotalCare participation by checking his or her address against a list of those who participate in the program. But the process for the city to chase late bill payments has several steps, so some customers have remained on the TotalCare list without having paid their recent bills, Dowler said.
This applies to only a small percentage of delinquent bill payers. Most city residents get trash and water service from the city, and if they fall behind on their water bill, they're quick to make payments. Nonpayment results in the immediate end of water service, and accounts can be closed soon after, which removes people from TotalCare rolls as well.
But some rural customers with well water have fallen behind on trash payments, and the city must continue to collect their trash because of public health concerns, and the account remains open. If the ordinance change passes, these people can be stripped of their TotalCare rights while the city begins the lengthy collections process.