D.C. Fire Chief Adrian H. Thompson yesterday met with representatives of the city’s Department of Personnel and the Office of Pay and Retirement, but they could not figure out why firefighters are having their medical insurance canceled.
“They are checking the status of all fire and EMS personnel health insurance,” fire department spokeswoman Kathryn Friedman said, adding that she could not say how long such a review would take.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that city firefighters have been discovering during doctor visits that their health insurance has been canceled for nonpayment by the District, even though their paychecks indicate that insurance premiums are being deducted.
Firefighters also say they have been pressing to get their paychecks corrected because they are getting paid too little — and in some cases, too much.
Randi Blank, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Office of Personnel, said the errors could be the result of any of a number of administrative problems stemming from efforts to modernize the city’s payroll.
Personnel officials are checking computer records against hard copies of fire department files to determine how many employees have been affected, Miss Blank said, adding that she has not heard of the problem occurring in any other city agency.
“I’m pretty upset about it because nobody should have their insurance canceled, especially when the deductions are being made,” D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said yesterday.
Mr. Mendelson said he was unaware of the insurance cancellations. He said he thought the fire department’s payroll problems had been resolved after he raised the issue with Chief Thompson during hearings in March and April.
Meanwhile, more firefighters have come forward to say their insurance was canceled without their knowledge.
Firefighter Craig Hagaman said he learned on April 22 that his family had no insurance when his wife tried to use her insurance card for a prescription.
“They told her, ‘This card’s no good,’” he said.
His insurance was canceled March 23 for nonpayment by the city, retroactive to March 7, 2004. During that time, Mr. Hagaman’s wife gave birth to their third child.
Last month, Mr. Hagaman tore a ligament in his knee while on duty. The department has scheduled a surgery next month, but he can’t get a second opinion because he has no insurance.
“Getting [department officials] to pay bills has been an uphill battle,” said Sgt. Mychael Shymansky, who was injured on duty last year. “It’s just been one promise broken after another. It’s very frustrating.”
On Oct. 22, Sgt. Shymansky was responding to a fire when he began to have chest pains. Paramedics took him to George Washington University Hospital, the nearest facility. Doctors concluded that the pains resulted from overexertion, and he was released.
When the $700 medical bill arrived in January, he forwarded it to the fire department — which refused to pay.
Officials said Sgt. Shymansky should have been taken to Providence Hospital or Washington Hospital Center, with whom the city has a contract to provide services. Firefighters can be taken to another hospital only in the case of life-threatening injury or illness.
The unpaid bill has been forwarded to a collection agency.
Firefighter Kenneth Austin has a similar story.
On June 23, 2004, he was conducting a morning check of his equipment when he felt a burning pain in his left shoulder so severe that it made him dizzy. He was transported to Sibley Hospital, the closest facility.
During a three-day stay, doctors determined that he had aggravated a disc in his spinal column. The injury did not require surgery.
The department deemed it a performance-of-duty injury but refused to pay when the $5,000 medical bill was delivered.
Officials said Mr. Austin he should have been taken to Providence or Washington Hospital Center.
“It’s not my concern where you take me,” Mr. Austin said. “Don’t ask me why the ambulance took me there. Ask the guy who was driving the ambulance.”
Chief Thompson said Monday that the department would pay Mr. Austin’s medical bills.
Miss Friedman said the chief also met with the director of the Police and Fire Clinic yesterday about Sgt. Shymansky’s situation.