Study: Cost of Ambulance Rides Soar While Patients, Accident Victims Pay More
The cost of an ambulance ride has soared over the past five years, according to a new study, leaving patients and accident victims on the hook for hundreds of dollars.
According to the analysis by FAIR Health, more ambulance trips are billing payers for “advanced life support”, pre hospital trauma care. At the same time, private insurers’ average payments for those trips increased 56% between 2017 and 2020, from $486 to $758. Meanwhile, Medicare’s average reimbursement for those ambulance rides increased by just 5%, from $441 to $463. Additionally, ambulances aren’t covered by new laws that ban most surprise medical bills, meaning patients are still on the hook in payment disputes between insurers and ambulance operators.
“The fact that an auto accident victim, for example, is penalized with higher medical bills is simply unjust,” said Matt Clark, senior partner and attorney at Chain | Cohn | Clark. “We need take care of people who are in need of help, and not surprise them with bills at the end of their traumatic ordeals.”
Ground ambulances are operated by local fire departments, private companies, hospitals and other providers and paid for in a variety of ways, which makes this a tricky issue to address. Some states — such as Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Vermont and West Virginia — have protections against surprise ground ambulance billing.
But in California and several other states, more than two-thirds of emergency ambulance rides included an out-of-network charge for ambulance-related services that posed a surprise bill risk. California has more Medi-Cal patients than any other state, but it pays less than almost all of them for ambulances to carry the low-income, disabled or older adults to where they need to go, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. An alliance of ambulance workers and their bosses announced they will urge the governor and California lawmakers to raise the reimbursement rate for Medi-Cal, the state’s version of the national program, Medicaid, which pays for medical assistance to Californians in need.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, at least half of all ambulance rides may result in a surprise bill, while the costs for an average ground transportation trip amounts to about $450. And the problem is getting worse.
Though some state and local governments regulate ground ambulance surprise billing practices, no federal law currently protects patients from such unexpected bills. In November, President Joe Biden administration set up a federal advisory committee, as mandated by No Surprises, to research and recommend ways to protect consumers from balance billing when using a ground ambulance.
FAIR Health is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing transparency to healthcare costs and health insurance information.
If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at chainlaw.com.