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Jul 14, 2010

EMSA TotalCare

Paying some bills, I noticed that I am being charged $3.65 per month on my OKC utilities bill for a line item which reads, “EMSA TOTALCARE.” There is absolutely no mention of this on the backside of the bill, where they place the fine print. Going to the city website, I found no mention of it whatsoever.
For those not in my local area, EMSA is the ambulance service. However, it is a private company and not a governmental service. This begs the question: why is it on my City bill?
So, on EMSA’s website, I found some answers. I also found the link to the city’s explanation, which apparently can’t be navigated to from the city's top level (or at least not logically).
What happened is the City and EMSA struck a deal last October, with nearly no announcement to the public, to bill city residents for a privatized insurance plan to cover the expense for ambulance trips to a hospital in life-threatening circumstances. While this may be a reasonable deal, I had to examine what it does and does not include.
First, it only covers should the ambulance be called directly to your residence. If you are elsewhere or in a car wreck, this insurance does not apply. Further, it only covers permanent residents of your home, no visitors, relatives or guests. Even children who are in shared custody may not be covered because only one home can be considered a permanent residence for the child. Finally, this program still collects from the recipient’s insurance, Medicare or Medicaid for the applicable fee and then waives the left-over.
So, what do we have? A person must have a life-threatening condition in their own home for this program to apply. Even then – that person will still be billed at the full rate so that insurance or other coverage will pay. They will receive bills during the interim of the insurance processing and after it is paid. The recipient must then request to apply the program waiver or they are responsible for the remainder of the bill.
What are the odds of that? Well, for some – maybe they have enough risk, but to me it sounds a bit like a city-company collaborative scam to get an extra $43 per residence in the coffers. By the way, if no one opted-out (which you can), that would bring in an extra $9.6 million for the two to split however they will.
While programs like this are valuable for some, most residents do not need it. Moreover, it seems a bit dubious that a government and private company would collaborate to do this and sneak it in under the radar, making everyone automatically enrolled and billed. I recall a similar if-you-don’t-reply-you’ll-be-billed method was used on students when I was in college. I found myself on television and the outcry against such unscrupulous tactics caused a reversal of the billing for everyone. I doubt that happens this time, as this city hall is bigger and the “students” aren’t listening.
Anyway, for those who are listening – if you want to keep it, no problem; do nothing. However, if you’d like opt out, follow this link. You will have to create an account, wait for an email to validate your account, log in, and verify your account number and last billing amount. After all this, you can have the option to opt out of this program for the address of that address. If you have multiple residences, then you have to opt out for each. It’s not easy – which is the point. Oh, one more thing – you can only opt out during the month of September each year.
Good luck. I will post a reminder here – and I may buy an ad in the paper. I’m quite disgusted with my local government. Look for a big MAPS or other municipal project to keep you distracted. Aaargh!

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