High Value Health Care

California legislature advances bill to prohibit surprise ground ambulance bills

Staff | TPIN
The California Assembly Committee on Emergency Management hearing on legislation to prohibit ground ambulance surprise bills

On Monday, April 17th, the California State Assembly Committee on Emergency Management advanced CALPIRG-backed legislation to prohibit surprise medical bills from ground ambulances. The legislation, AB 716 authored by Assemblymember Boerner-Horvath closes a glaring gap regarding ground ambulance bills in existing state and federal patient protection laws against surprise bills.

Surprise medical bills are a failure of the health care system – consumers are charged exorbitantly high prices for being treated by providers who they didn’t know were out-of-network.  Californians won protections for some of those bills for patients enrolled in California-regulated insurance in 2017 with AB 72, and for all insured Californians this year under the federal No Surprises Act.

Although the new federal law offers significant protections from surprise bills for out-of-network doctors at in-network facilities, for out-of-network emergency services, and for air ambulance trips, ground ambulance problems were not addressed.

Currently, when patients call 911, they have no control over which ground ambulance company takes them to the hospital. Because consumers can’t pick their ambulance company, there’s no incentive for ambulance companies to lower their prices, or go in-network. 

Ground ambulances have the highest out-of-network billing rate of any medical specialty in the country. California has one of the highest median surprise bills for ambulances at $1209. 

Assembly Bill 716 will prevent consumers from being charged these exorbitant out-of-network surprise bills for ground ambulance services and make Californians less hesitant to call for an ambulance for fear of the bill.

As Assemblymember Boerner Horvath said during yesterday’s hearing “When calling an ambulance, the last thing anyone should be thinking about is that the ride will result in a financial hardship.”

Joining Assemblymember Boerner Horvath to testify to the Committee on Emergency Management was Jennifer Reiz from Fresno, who was identified through PIRG’s ground ambulance surprise bills story bank. Jennifer shared the story of her daughter’s ambulance ride after an injury with a horse, which left her with a surprise bill of $2400 despite having employer-sponsored health insurance. 

To prevent more experiences like that of Jennifer and her daughter, CALPIRG will continue working to prohibit surprise ambulance bills in the state. 

The legislation was unanimously approved by the committee and moves to the Assembly Committee on Health next week.

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