California Legislature acts to prohibit surprise ambulance bills

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California State Legislature approved legislation Tuesday to protect Californians against surprise ground ambulance bills. Assembly Bill 716, by state Assemblymember Boerner Horvath, would close a glaring gap in the federal No Surprises Act, which limits how much money most out-of-network medical providers — except ground ambulances — can charge patients. The bill, which passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate and 55-0 vote in the Assembly, now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature. 

Often, when patients call 911, they have no control over which ground ambulance company takes them to the hospital. About half of emergency ambulance patients with insurance are at risk of receiving a surprise medical bill, which is an out-of-network charge for those transportation services. Ground ambulances have the highest out-of-network billing rate of any medical specialty in the country, and California has one of the highest median surprise bills for ambulances at $1,209. 

CALPIRG State Director Jenn Engstrom responded to the bill passage with the following statement:

Surprise medical bills are a failure of the health care system. Patients are charged exorbitantly high prices by providers who people didn’t know were out-of-network. No one in a medical emergency should hesitate to call 911 for fear of a large out-of-network ambulance bill, and they definitely don’t have time to consult a network directory to make sure the ambulance they call is covered by their health plan. 

“Thanks to this legislative action, when it comes to surprise ambulance bills, Californians could soon make sure that protecting their physical health isn’t so detrimental to their financial health. We thank Assemblymember Boerner Horvath for her leadership on this issue and urge the governor to sign this critical legislation into law.”