Bottom Line: Surprise ambulance bills cost big bucks

Bottom Line: How to deal with surprise ambulance bills

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Surprise medical bills are nothing new, and Congress has finally taken some action to help. But as Consumer Reports explains, there’s one notable exception that can still end up costing unsuspecting patients hundreds, even thousands of dollars.

Last March, Consumer Reports writer Donna Rosato found herself in a serious health emergency. She had a fever and a cough and after going to her local ER was rushed to a larger hospital by ambulance.

“I had a cough that wouldn’t go away and a mild fever spiked to 103° F. I went to the emergency room, where I suddenly became unable to breathe,” said Rosato. “I was put on a ventilator for 10 days and spent a few weeks in an intensive care unit, where I slowly recovered from the flu and pneumonia.”

When she finally was allowed to go home, she was greeted with a pile of medical bills.

It might be surprising to learn that the biggest bill she owed was for the ambulance ride which was not covered by her insurance company, and she is not alone.

A recent study found more than three out of four ground ambulance rides could result in an out-of-network bill. And those bills are likely not going away anytime soon.

They are not part of new legislation called the No Surprises Act aimed at eliminating surprise medical bills that can arise from out-of-network providers, often in emergencies.

“If we’re protecting patients from surprise billing once they get to the ER, why not protect them for the surprise bill on their way to the ER?” said Chuck Bell, Consumer Reports Advocacy Expert.

Ambulance providers and insurers often disagree on what is a fair rate for this essential lifesaving service.

Ambulance companies say they provide costly, labor-intensive services, and insurance reimbursements are too low for them to be in-network. That means patients like Donna are often left footing a hefty bill but there are some ways to fight back.

“A few states like Ohio, New York, Colorado and Maryland have passed laws against surprise medical bills that include restrictions on ground ambulance billing,” she said.

Also, ask your insurer to review the claim. If it’s still not covered, contact the ambulance company and ask if they can lower the charge or offer a payment plan.

“Talking to my insurer did the trick,” said Rosato. “A few weeks later, I got a notice that Aetna paid the ambulance provider an additional $1,500, covering all but $283 of the original $3,000 bill.”

The No Surprises Act will go into effect in January 2022, but there is still hope that Congress and the states will enact protections from surprise ground ambulance bills down the road.

“Consumer Reports TV News” is published by Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization that does not accept advertising and does not have any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

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