You’re not protected from unexpected ambulance fees despite federal ban on surprise medical bills

Health News

An ambulance speeds through traffic in a file image. (Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With Congress’ passing of the emergency COVID-19 stimulus package last week, Americans with private health insurance can breathe easier when it comes to receiving out-of-network bills for medical care. Under the new laws, patients can only be billed based on their insurance plan’s in-network rate, whether or not the care was from an out-of-network facility.

These protections safeguard against the estimated 1 in 5 emergency visits resulting in a surprise bill — but an ambulance ride to the hospital can still come with a hefty and unexpected price tag. On average, surprise out-of-network ambulance bills fall in the $450 range and result in about $129 million in bills every year, the New York Times reports.

Ambulance billing has been tricky for lawmakers to regulate, Sarah Kliff and Margot Sanger-Katz explained recently in the New York Times. It’s been difficult to nail down pricing due to the wide range of private companies offering services at fluctuating prices, in addition to a variety of other factors, like cost of supplies.

Some states, like Texas, already have their own laws against surprise medical billing in place. But the Lone Star State’s protections also do not include ambulance fees. Among all states, Texas and New York have some of the highest rates of out-of-network charges for emergency care.

And a report out this month from the Texas Department of Insurance found 85% of ambulance rides in the state are billed as out-of-network. Notably, the COVID-19 relief package does include consumer protections from surprise billing for air ambulance service services. These flights can cost over $40,000 alone, according to a 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office.

The new bill does offer some promise for ambulance riders, however. A new commission will be assigned to sift through all the information on ground ambulance billing — and figure out how to streamline the numbers.

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