Officials with the city of Denison have clarified some of the issues relating to its decision to begin billing for some fire services. Denison City Manager Jud Rex said the new ordinance is an extension of how the city already bills insurance companies for emergency medical services.
The City Council authorized Denison Fire Rescue to bill for certain services when fire department resources are dispatched. The ordinance would allow the city to bill a person’s insurance directly in the case of an emergency response.
Denison Director of Community Engagement Sunny Mackey said in an email Wednesday that residents would not be required to pay if their insurance company denies the claim. Furthermore, she said there is no risk of property being seized by the city.
“Since every incident is different, it is impossible to put one standard on a billing scenario,” Denison Fire Chief Gregg Loyd said in an email Wednesday. “If the incident has insurance coverage that would cover the service then that would generate a bill for services provided.”
The city posted responses to some public questions on its website. Here are seven things to know about the changes:
1. Residents will not be billed directly
“We will only attempt to recover our cost if there is insurance coverage that would pay such a claim. We will not charge any fees to the homeowner to recover the cost of responding,” the release said. “The purpose of billing insurance is to recover the cost of providing services that are already covered by existing insurance coverage. In this way, the cost of providing service is shifted away from residents.”
The email from Mackey further explained that all EMS calls are billed to the patient that receives the care based on miles traveled and treatment provided. The number of caregivers or equipment has no bearing on an EMS bill.
2. Traffic control is one example of where potential charges can come
The FAQ said the city incurs costs associated with clean up and control of traffic on U.S. Highway 75 as one issue of concern. The new ordinance is designed to help the city recoup some of the costs associated with those incidents.
3. A house fire in Denison could trigger a bill
The document states a house fire in city limits could be an incident that would fall under the new ordinance.
“The ordinance allows the City to charge for responding to the incident; however, we will only attempt to recover our cost if there is insurance coverage that would pay such a claim. We will not charge any fees to the homeowner to recover the cost of responding.”
4. DFR makes up the majority of the city’s general fund budget
According to the budget documents posted to the city’s website the fire department makes up 20 percent of the city’s $29,579,103 general fund budget. DFR makes up $5,878,711 of that budget.
The budget breaks down the departments expenses into various categories. $3,81,359 goes towards wages for full time staff with the department. $308,000 is budgeted to cover overtime expenses. $70,000 goes to fuel. $20,500 is budgeted to cover uniforms and boots with $30,000 allocated to cover personal protective equipment.
An email statement from Mackey said the city collects $10 million a year in property taxes and additional funding through sales tax. She said the money collected from taxes does not cover the full cost of public safety services the city provides.
“Every dollar from other sources, such as insurance coverage that is already in place, help to lower the tax burden of Denison residents.”
5. If insurance denies a claim, it will be dropped
The FA states the intention is to bill insurance where coverage exists. It further states if the city is unable to recover the costs the claim will be dropped and the resident will not be charged.
“The fees are not meant to be a hardship on any resident or property owner but will protect the city and the taxpayer from costs that arise when responding to calls that require significant resources,” the document states.
Mackey said residents concerned over their insurance premiums or coverage need to speak with their individual insurance company. Further she said the insurance companies build the charges and limits to medical services and fires into the policies and that is not unique to Denison.
“People are already paying for this coverage,” Mackey said. “The city of Denison simply wants to see that money come back to our community to offset the cost burden of taxpayers.”
6. Renters are subject to the same policies as others
Mackey said in the email that any fees charged in a structure fire would be directed to the responsible party, which in most cases is the property owner. She said residents with concerns about their rental insurance coverage need to check with their insurance company.
7. The city will provide the same service it always has
The email specifically says anyone who is concerned about not calling 911 for an emergency in falling prey to scare tactics. She said the city will provide the same public safety services to all residents regardless of insurance coverage as they do in cases of Emergency Medical Services currently.
“The city has a long history of providing excellent public safety services to residents of Denison,” Mackey said in the email. “Our first responders take great pride in the work they do. We are here to serve the public and it’s alarming someone would suggest residents should question whether to call 911 in an emergency.”
For more information on the new fire ordinance, visit http://www.HeraldDemocrat.com.