Assembly starts health care discussion

  • By DAN BALMER
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2015 10:47pm
  • News

For its first meeting of 2015 on Tuesday, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly put into practice new legislative procedures to help improve efficiency and discussed the rising cost of health care.

With seven ordinances up for public hearing, four were moved to the consent agenda and passed unanimously without discussion. Among them were two ordinances that confirm refunds to property owners in the Bayshore and Funny River West Subdivisions Utility Special Assessment Districts for the installation of a gas line. An ordinance to purchase replacement fluoroscopy equipment for $438,713 and an appropriation of $24,427.25 from the U.S. Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service for the Coastal Impact Assistance Program were also enacted.

At the Nov. 25, 2014 meeting, the assembly passed an ordinance, sponsored by Assembly President Dale Bagley, that certain noncontroversial ordinances scheduled for public hearing may be placed on the consent agenda if no objection is received.

Assembly member Kelly Wolf asked to remove an ordinance from the consent agenda so they could discuss the proposed appropriation of $200,000 to fund consultants to facilitate a health care taskforce. Borough Mayor Mike Navarre introduced the ordinance.

Five independent medical providers testified to the assembly their desire to see fair representation on a task force that aims to research ways to reduce health care costs.

Scott Carlson, a clinic administrator for Medicenter and the Surgery Center of Kenai, said he supported Navarre’s intentions on conditions that a committee is fairly represented from both the public and private sector.

“Great solutions could come from both sides,” he said. “I do worry about the borough hospital and borough agenda. I feel like we should make it one health care community.”

Navarre said no members have been picked for the task force yet and he has every intention to be fair and bring together a group of community members from all sides of the local medical industry.

“There are a lot of good providers in this community who have a lot of knowledge and expertise that I intend to tap into,” Navarre said.

He said the reason he got into back into politics in 2011 had to do with his time in the Legislature when he was on two health care commissions. Negative rhetoric derailed progress that has contributed to the current state of the health care system.

“The fact of the matter was we failed because we just kept throwing more fuel on the fire and the system we have in place now is unsustainable,” he said.

Dr. Lynn Carlson said he also was interested in seeing the public and private medical groups come together and work toward solutions.

“Free enterprise fosters new ideas,” he said. “You have to give people options and let the private sector try.”

The ordinance is set for a public hearing at the Feb. 3 assembly meeting. Assembly member Wayne Ogle said the discussion started on health care is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

The assembly narrowly passed an ordinance by a 5-4 vote that aims to speed up the time for an ordinance to go from introduction to public hearing. The assembly attempted to vote from their iPads for the first time but resorted back to a roll call vote after a malfunction.

In a memo from Bagley, who sponsored the ordinance, he wrote, “most ordinances are for supplemental appropriations, selling or leasing property, or changing borough code. Setting the baseline at a minimum of 13 days after introduction for hearing ordinances … will improve efficiency without harming the public process.”

The ordinance also requires a minimum of two public hearings for the annual budget. Ordinances that change borough code are still subject to the minimum 25-day requirement. Assembly members have the option to set a hearing for a later date if more than 13 days is needed on a particular ordinance.

Assembly members Mako Haggerty, Stan Welles, Ogle and Wolf voted against the ordinance. Welles said he didn’t see the need to be in a hurry to spend the taxpayers’ money. Ogle said he was not in favor of speeding up government because some items that may seem routine may be more important to others.

Assembly member Brent Johnson said the ordinance streamlines the process and the option to place an item on the original timeline is still available.

The assembly unanimously approved an amendment to its code to align borough employee conduct with the passage of the statewide vote to legalize marijuana. The code updates the policy to not allow marijuana in the workplace for borough employees because it would impair them.

The assembly heard a presentation from Homer residents Milli Martin and Michelle Miller on the Pratt Museum capital grant request for a new facility.

Miller, the Development Director for the Pratt Museum said she knows state funding is limited given the economic climate but she said she hopes the assembly will “keep momentum going” and support efforts to construct a new single-level facility.

 

Reach Dan Balmer at daniel.balmer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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