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Ambulance Fees Lead Sticker Shock California Patients

Most Californians who are transported via ambulance assume that they are getting a free ride. However, that is not always the case. In fact, much-needed medical care and transportation from a paramedic could cost you thousands of dollars.

As highlighted in a recent Los Angeles Times article, the operation and financing of ambulance services varies across the country, ranging from volunteers to ambulance companies. Even when the local fire department operates the ambulance service, residents may still pay.

“Though people think that their tax dollar pays for the paramedic service, it really doesn’t,” Cathy Chidester, director of the Los Angeles County Emergency Medical Services Agency, explains. “It pays for fire service.”

The costs of ambulance services can also differ significantly from one town to the next. A 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the cost for an ambulance ride can range from $224 to $2,204 per trip for Medicare recipients.

While patients should not refuse a ride when their health is at risk, there are steps patients can take to ensure that insurance providers and ambulance companies deal with you fairly when it comes to billing. The Times offers the following tips:

Understand your insurance coverage. Both Medicare and private insurance generally cover the cost of ambulance rides so long as it was “medically necessary.” Transportation via ambulance is considered medically necessary in cases of a sudden emergency or when your health is at serious risk and time is of the essence. An ambulance may also be considered a necessary service in less urgent situations, such as moving from one medical facility to another.

Make sure the ambulance service was billed correctly. When ambulance services seek reimbursement from insurance companies, they use code numbers to indicate the service they provided. Many ambulance claims are denied simply because the wrong code was used, so it pays to ask questions.

Appeal improper charges. Patients faced with bills that appear high or improper should pursue all available remedies. Most ambulance companies have a patient advocate or billing person available to assist. In some cases, you may be able to negotiate a lower price.