NC county to garnish wages for outstanding EMS bills
"The cost of providing emergency medical services is significantly more than we recoup," county manager Brian Epley said
By Rebecca Sitzes
SHELBY, N.C. — Following a three-year hiatus, the county will once again begin garnishing wages and intercepting tax returns for unpaid emergency medical services bills.
"The cost of providing emergency medical services is significantly more than we recoup," said County Manager Brian Epley.
He said on average, there is a $6 million gap each year.
"It's a big number," he said. "That's normal in local government, generally speaking."
Epley said prior to 2016, the county had been using a billing company to make those collections but lost confidence in that company because of data accuracy reasons, a low collection rate and lack of customer service support.
The county elected to terminate the approximately $150,000 yearly contract in 2016 and were able to absorb the billing process internally.
"Since that point, we're on year three, and we feel like we have much more accurate data," Epley said. "We have a much higher level of reliance on data we're using. We were also able to take the collection percentage from the low 50s to around 70 percent."
Ultimately, this translates to reduced cost to taxpayers.
"It's something we're really, really proud of," he said.
Epley said efficiency and being fiscally responsible is a primary goal of county administrators, and this is just one example of the re-engineering strategies used to stretch resources in a responsible way.
During the most recent county meeting last week, commissioners voted to re-implement wage garnishment and tax interception.
Epley said it is a last case scenario if all else has failed.
"We are more than willing to work with someone in a hardship, and there's an affordability issue," he said. "We have customers that come in and pay a couple dollars a month."
Cleveland County central collections sends an initial notice regarding the debt to the patient and then three additional notices. If there is no response following the fourth notice, collection action is taken.
The patient is sent a letter giving them 30 days to contact the office for payment and if there is still no response, the account is sent to debt set off, meaning incoming taxes are intercepted. If the person has quarterly wages of more than $5,000, they are notified of wage garnishment and debt setoff. If they do not have wages, the debt setoff warning letter is sent and taxes are intercepted.
This does not apply to those with Medicaid or Medicare, and Epley said around 60 percent of the payer group in the county is receiving one or the other.
He said the amount that is garnished from a person's paycheck is statutory driven.
"It's certainly not the entirety of ones wages," he said. "There are legal parameters that give us guidance on that."
Epley said the cost of EMS transport varies depending on the type of transport and whether it is advanced, meaning the patient needed some type of narcotic medication or they were hooked up to a heart monitor, or more basic.
©2019 The Star (Shelby, N.C.)