Vail Daily column: Help save our services
Changes in health care have been fast and furious over the past three years. From the way health care providers are paid to the services that can be provided, and even medication availability, many things have changed and become harder to manage. The Affordable Care Act has forever changed many lives. It provides health insurance to many uninsured Americans while at the same time causing the rolls of Medicaid to swell. In 2010 we started the idea of merging Eagle County Health Service District and Western Eagle County Health Service District. Both entities had saved enough funds to weather the economic downturn from 2007-2012. As we were rising out of that slump this new reality hit our district.
Because of these changes the district has lost nearly $1.8 million annually due to shifts in the landscape of insurance coverage required by the act. As a result of the increased income thresholds and changes in eligibility, more and more of our patients are qualifying for Medicaid. The district is forced to accept the 7 cents on the dollar billed that Medicaid pays and there is no recourse to collect the balance. In order to continue to provide Eagle County with the standard of care you have come to expect from the district, we need to find a way to either reduce expenses by $1.8 million or recover this lost revenue from some other source.
In response, the district has already made significant efforts to reduce expenses. These have included holding salaries and benefits low, basically just keeping up with inflation; and reduced training, community outreach and the purchasing of non-essential supplies. Additionally, the district has deferred maintenance on buildings, rebuilt old ambulances rather than purchasing new ones, used management and training staff to cover ambulance shifts during peak periods and deferred capital improvements.
However, these expense reduction efforts have only covered a small portion of the shortfall, the balance coming from the district’s reserves, which, after two years, are almost exhausted. Few, if any, potential expense reductions remain that will not have a direct impact on the quality of the services you receive.
The only remaining choices are to either reduce our level of service or ask the taxpayers for a modest increase in your tax rate of 0.75 mills — about $6 per $100,000 of actual valuation. The resulting tax rate would be 2.75 mills or a total of about $22 per $100,000. The additional $2 million raised by the mill rate increase will cover the lost revenue and allow the district to meet the needs of our growing population.
To help save our service, please vote for the 0.75 mill increase in your homeowner taxes. This election is being conducted by mail with the ballots due by May 3 and is separate from other ballots. So please vote for the increase and return your ballot prior to that date.
With your help, we can continue to have access to the finest pre-hospital health care that we have all come to expect.
Fred Morrison is the chief executive officer of Eagle County Paramedic Services. He can be reached at 970-926-5270. For more, go to http://www.eaglecountyparamedics.com.