Remember this Leader story from a few months ago? We recently noticed a problem with it.
It started off as a normal Wednesday morning for Burbank Vice Mayor Will Rogers when out of nowhere, he found himself lying on the floor.
Rogers, 59, laid on the floor unconscious for about 11 hours until his wife came home and called 911. The Burbank Fire Department arrived at his home in a matter of minutes and transported him to a local hospital.
“It’s probably the best rest that I’ve had in a very long time,” he said, jokingly. “I thought I was dead and was dreaming that I was dead.”
The vice mayor said that he had no prior health complications before his unexpected medical emergency, which he later found out was labeled as a syncope episode, the medical term for fainting.
Rogers continued to joke about his wife enjoying the company of the firefighters and first responders, but one thing he was serious about and grateful for is his subscription to the Burbank Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services membership program.
Because of his membership, which costs him and about 4,500 other Burbank households $48 annually or $4 a month through Burbank Water and Power, Rogers had to pay nothing for his emergency call.
According to Fire Chief Tom Lenahan, the average cost of an emergency call and an ambulance ride ranges between $1,200 and $1,700.
Rogers said the estimate for his emergency call would have cost him about $1,600.
“All it takes is $4 a month on your utility bill to knock [your emergency costs] to zero,” Rogers said.
Nothing wrong with the above, and he’s right.
But moving on, we soon noticed this historically dubious claim:
The fire department launched its Emergency Medical Service membership program in 1995 as a way to give back to the community, Lenahan said.
“We had seen it done at other municipalities,” he said. “It’s basically an insurance policy for the community. Yes, people have insurance, but sometimes their insurance doesn’t cover all the costs.”
Not so. The FD had absolutely nothing to do with this plan.
Here’s what really happened:
FD calls in Burbank had always been free. Forever. But in the mid-1990s, then City Manager Bud Ovrom came up with the bright idea to start charging Burbank residents a big new fee for this service. We thought it was a bad idea then and now.
In response to this dramatic new cash-collection scheme, newly elected council members Bob Kramer and Ted McConley absolutely freaked at the prospect of people paying extra for emergency calls.
They thought the same thing we did. “No way,” McConkey practically shouted one night from the dais. He wasn’t going to start reaming his Burbank residents in order to make a quick buck from our vital emergency services. That’s what taxes are for, remember?
So Ovrom and staff were forced to come up with the idea of a special “reserve fund” that could be collected via utility bills. If a family or ratepayer chose to pay a few bucks a month they would become a part of the fund, and not then have to pay a dime for these old services which had always been free. The money would come from the fund collection itself.
That’s why this subsequent claim is total and complete nonsense:
Sana Ford, the fire department’s fire administrator, said that instead of fronting the emergency bill onto the resident, the department will charge the resident’s insurance company to pay for the costs. If a resident is a member of the program and does not have insurance, then the city will waive the costs and the city will incur the loss.
“This program would absolutely behoove [those without insurance], and we lose out,” she said. “So, if you don’t have insurance, then there’s no one we can bill and we just dismiss your bill.”
Bullshit. That’s where the four bucks a month is going collectively. The city doesn’t lose a thing. They also never used to bill the fund-enrollees’ insurance companies for something that the fund was supposed to have already covered them for.
In fact, part of the original Kramer/McConkey agreement was that this charge for FD services would only last a short while, and that there’d also be a complete accounting of how much money had been collected via the utility bills to see that no undue enrichment was going on anywhere. The good old days, right?
Rogers said that he’s been a member of the program since its inception, not because he needed it, but because he thought it was a “no-brainer” decision.
“We have a lot of seniors in town that take advantage of the program, but I would say anyone that could afford $4 a month should be signing up for it,” he said.
That’s right Will, and it’s all thanks to Ted McConkey. This program never would have existed but for his very angry criticisms of Ovrom’s fee-for-service scheme.