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Taken for a ride? Ambulances stick patients with surprise bills

By in Press Enterprise on November 22, 2017

By California Healthline

One patient got a $3,600 bill for a 4-mile ride. Another was charged $8,460 for a trip from one California hospital that could not handle his case to a facility that could. Still another found herself marooned at an out-of-network hospital, where she’d been taken by ambulance without her consent.

These patients all took ambulances in emergencies and got slammed with unexpected bills. Public outrage has erupted over surprise medical bills — generally out-of-network charges that a patient did not expect or could not control — prompting California and 20 other states to pass laws protecting consumers in some situations. But these laws largely ignore ground ambulance rides, which can leave patients stuck with hundreds or even thousands of dollars in bills, with few options for recourse, finds a Kaiser Health News review of 350 consumer complaints in 32 states.

Patients choose to go to the doctor or a hospital, but they are vulnerable when they call 911 — or get into an ambulance. The dispatcher picks the ambulance crew, which, in turn, often picks the hospital. Moreover, many ambulances are not summoned by patients. Instead, the crew arrives at the scene having heard about an accident on a scanner, or because police or a bystander called 911.

Betsy Imholz, special projects director at the Consumers Union, which has collected over 700 patient stories about surprise medical bills, said at least a quarter concern ambulances.

Devin Hall of Brentwood went to a local hospital with rectal bleeding but was transferred to another hospital about 20 miles away to see a specialist. The ambulance ride was out-of-network and Hall was charged $7,109.70 by American Medical Response, the nation’s largest ambulance provider. (Heidi de Marco/KHN)

“It’s a huge problem,” she said.

Forty years ago, most ambulances were free for patients, provided by volunteers or town fire departments using […]    

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