Medicaid veto felt in Riley/Pott County ambulance fee hikes

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Pottawatomie and Riley County officials are scrambling to find a more cost-efficient way to pay for its ambulance services — and Medicaid expansion could’ve helped, according to local leaders.

County officials, along with City of Manhattan commission members, met Thursday afternoon in the Riley County Commission Chambers for their monthly joint meeting. Leadership from Via Christi Hospital in Manhattan were also involved in discussions.

Via Christi, who operates the ambulances, will be raising their fees nearly $200,000 for each county this year.

“We’re looking at both counties maybe coming together with an administration office, that we can keep these costs to maybe a quarter of a million dollars,” Pottawatomie County Commissioner Pat Weixelman told KMAN after the meeting. “We’re going to explore these options and see if there is any substantial route that we can take to try and save a little money.”

Bob Copple, the president of Via Christi in Manhattan, agreed the veto of Medicaid expansion by Gov. Sam Brownback on March 30 didn’t help the situation. After the meeting, both Copple and Pottawatomie County Administrator Robert Reece said Medicaid expansion would be a positive for both local governments and hospitals when it comes to eliminating expenses for unpaid ambulance transports.

“Everybody would actually benefit from that scenario,” Copple said. “Because right now, truly, as we were talking in the meeting, there’s a percentage of the folks who are transported who don’t have insurance, don’t have coverage and can’t pay.”

Copple said the hospital hasn’t changed its fees for more than a decade. But now, the hospital can’t afford to keep doing so.

“It’s apparent that people are starting to understand what these services actually cost to operate,” he said. “We have been subsidizing these services for both counties for well over a decade each, and I think the county commissioners understand that.”

Copple said one option for each county is to add another mill levy to support an ambulance district, which is granted under state statute.

Riley County Commissioner Ben Wilson hopes a plan is figured out soon.

“Riley County would like to have a final answer by the time we finalize our budget discussions, which is just a couple months away now,” he said.

Wilson and Weixelman volunteered to lead a subcommittee to investigate options.

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Brady Bauman

Reporter/anchor covering local, state and breaking news. Former newspaper writer, news and sports. California born, Kansas raised. Questions, news tips can be sent to brady@1350kman.com.

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