About to call an ambulance? Hope you have deep pockets, because citizens across California are being stuck with sky-high bills after taking a ride to the hospital. It’s just another example of how our modern medical economy is broken.
It’s an unbelievable fact of life in America. If something bad happens and you have a medical emergency, you might also have to metaphorically spin a giant roulette wheel to figure out how much money you’ll also lose. That number could be anywhere from zero to a life-changing, financially crippling sum that you’ll spend years paying off. Yes, our system for ambulance rides — like most of our medical economy — is currently broken.
For starters, part of the problem is that you simply don’t get to choose a lot of the details and factors that ultimately determine the bill you’re left with. When an ambulance is dispatched to the scene of your emergency, it might originate from a wide variety of different public or private organizations. It might be staffed by technician-level personnel, or it might be staffed with (more expensive) paramedics — even if you don’t need a paramedic. If the ambulance is associated with a particular hospital, you’re probably going there no matter what. And finally, the cherry on top is the fact that since most private insurance companies have serious issues with the way ambulance billing is factored, the final bill is likely to be out-of-network.
NBC News’ latest look at ambulance billing includes stories of patients being charged almost $4,000 for a 4-mile ride, as well as someone who incurred nearly $9,000 in ambulance charges because the first hospital they went to couldn’t help their particular ailment.
As it currently stands, there are few good options when you need emergency medical transportation. First of all, keep in mind that you have the right to refuse an ambulance ride. Often, at the scene of an incident such as a car accident, ambulances will respond on their own or as a result of bystander calls. In these cases, patients often end up feeling whisked along the process without any actual say in what was going on or knowledge of their fiscal responsibilities (although, to be fair, those things are difficult to communicate during an emergency).
Except in the most dire of circumstances, consider trying to have a family member, friend, or even Uber or Lyft driver take you to a local urgent care center rather than the standard “911 call, ambulance ride” process that has financially damaged so many families. Many patients later state that they would have “rather crawled” to the hospital than incur the ruinous medical bills they later received.
At Urgent 9, we’re trying to change the narrative around medical billing by exposing some of the ways the system is currently broken, and offering real-world solutions to fix them. Our patients don’t receive “surprise bills” — our direct payment system is easy to understand, and priced realistically and affordably to avoid insurance billing nightmares. When you need medical help, that shouldn’t have lasting negative financial ramifications as well.