• Ronnie Shalev, MD

Ambulance Rides are Expensive!

Did you know that one ambulance bill could be financially devastating?

I have reviewed patients' bills for short ambulance rides that cost upwards of $3,000! I have also seen cases where the patient got billed $40,000 for a helicopter medical evacuation. Getting stuck with a $40,000 bill could force someone to go bankrupt!

Unfortunately, having medical insurance doesn’t give anyone peace of mind anymore.

At anytime, insurance companies can decide not to pay for medical treatment. The patient and their doctor are then burdened to prove to the insurance company that the treatment was medically necessary, in order for the insurance company to pay the bill.

The decision to deny the insurance claim also applies to ambulance rides and air medical transportation. Insurance companies don’t automatically pay for medical transport. Ambulance trips are only considered medically necessary in cases of a sudden emergency or when your health is in serious danger and time is crucial.

That means if you had a car accident, were not seriously injured, and could walk afterward, then the insurance company could refuse to pay the ambulance bill. If you sprained your knee during a football game and someone called an ambulance to take you to the hospital, there's a good chance that you could be stuck with the ambulance bill!

Why are ambulance rides so expensive in the first place?

Ambulance companies are increasingly owned and managed by private companies and venture capital firms. These for profit ambulance operators often charge by the mile and sometimes for each service provided, such as providing oxygen or placing an IV. If the ambulance is staffed with paramedics rather than emergency medical technicians, the charge will be higher — even if the patient didn't need paramedic services.

The main problem is that oftentimes ambulance companies and health insurance companies can't agree on a “fair price”. When the ambulance service doesn't join the insurer's network, this leaves patients stuck with out-of-network charges that haven't been negotiated and that are very inflated. In these cases, the insurer will pay what it deems “fair” and then the patient gets a medical bill for the remaining balance, also known as a “balance bill”.

So what can I do to prevent a surprise ambulance bill?

First of all, call an ambulance out of medical necessity only. That means only call an ambulance if you emergently need to get to a hospital, can’t drive yourself, AND there is no one that can take you.

Second, remember MediBookr’s patient advocacy services! MediBookr can help you review your surprise medical bills and negotiate with both the insurance companies and ambulance companies.

-Dr. Ronnie Shalev is a board certified Emergency Medicine physician and Chief Medical Officer of MediBookr