Ambulance Rides Driving Many Patients Into Collections: Report

Riding in an ambulance makes most people feel like they are the last one to leave a party at a restaurant, because they are getting stuck with the check, according to a published report that details how many emergency medical services are not covered by health insurance plans, leaving individuals, especially those suffering a medical emergency, facing hefty bills and communications from debt collectors.

The majority of ambulance rides across the country involve surprise medical bills, according to the report, to the tune of as much as $129 million per year. On average, an individual taken in an ambulance to a hospital or healthcare provider faces a bill of $450. That has led individuals to seek other options, such as using car-sharing services like Uber, instead of calling for an ambulance in an emergency.

In many cases, the ambulance that shows up is part of a town’s only emergency medical service, and insurance companies can not force ambulance companies to participate in their plans.

Ambulance companies say they must cope with high overhead costs and are dealing with reduced revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic has actually brought some relief for individuals who need ambulances. Ambulance services that received money from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund are only allowed to charge whatever an insurance provider will pay when transporting presumptive or confirmed coronavirus patients. And Medicare is paying for ambulance trips to doctors’ offices and urgent care centers during the pandemic, as well.

A bill has been introduced in Congress — the Ban Surprise Billing Act — that would create a committee to study the cost of ground ambulance services (as opposed to helicopter ambulance services), but it has sat in committee for seven months without any activity.

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