Ambulance Rides More Expensive
By Caroline Lewis
New York City ambulance bills are now a little more painful.
The FDNY held a public hearing March 27 on a proposal to raise the rate it bills patients and insurers for emergency medical services. The suggested rule change states that the price hike is needed to defray rising labor costs and other expenses and would help reduce the amount taxpayers have to cover. There has been no decision made on the proposal.
But ambulance bills are historically tied to developing personal debt. In a recent national survey of people with medical debt, one in five traced it back to an ambulance ride, according to the health policy nonprofit KFF.
The FDNY now charges $1,385 for an ambulance ride on which a patient is provided with basic life support—a 54 percent increase over the most recent rate of $900. The agency is seeking less dramatic rate hikes, between 4 percent and 10 percent, for ambulance rides with different levels of advanced life support. Those rides already cost upwards of $1,500 apiece.
The FDNY last raised ambulance rates in January 2021 in a move that was expected to raise an additional $4 million per year. Emergency medical workers in the FDNY also got a pay bump through contract negotiations in 2021.
The rate hikes are concerning because ambulance rides often result in surprise medical bills. ‘Surprise bills’ are those that result from a patient unexpectedly getting care outside of their insurance network and getting billed for more than they would have paid in-network. Because people usually use ambulances in an emergency, it’s hard to check if they’re in-network.
Patients enrolled in health plans regulated by New York state, such as the ones available on the Affordable Care Act marketplace, are protected from receiving out-of-network charges for ambulances and other medical services by state law.
But ambulances are exempt from a similar federal law, called the No Surprises Act, that took effect in 2022. That means New Yorkers could still get surprise bills for ambulance rides if they’re insured through some employer-sponsored health plans that are federally regulated or have insurance from out of state.
The FDNY has a financial assistance program for New York state residents who are uninsured or can’t cover the cost of an ambulance ride after insurance and patients can call their billing department at 844-394-5716 to make a request.