Some people go to great lengths to avoid an ambulance ride, from taking an Uber to the hospital to driving themselves to the emergency room, broken bones and all.
With all the horror stories of people owing thousands after getting emergency transport, it’s easy to see why: The cost of an ambulance ride isn’t always consistent or clearly defined, so you don’t really know how much you’ll pay until you get the bill. And it can be a lot.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take one. With all the resuscitation equipment onboard — plus the expertise of paramedics or emergency medical technicians — it very well could save your life, even if it does temporarily dent your pocketbook.
Luckily, there are ways to keep costs under control. But when calamity strikes, you likely won’t have time to contemplate them. That’s why it’s good to plan ahead.
What Goes Into the Cost of an Ambulance Ride?
Ambulance services vary by city, company and health plan. Some areas use municipal emergency services, which can lead to lower costs because taxes cover part of the ride itself. Others outsource to third-party, private ambulance companies, which may lead to higher costs and may or may not be in your health insurance network. Some may have both options, and it’s up to the dispatcher to pick.
Generally, providers charge a base fee and a mileage surcharge, plus costs for extra things like oxygen. For example:
- In Albuquerque, a “basic life support” care and transport costs about $512, plus $12.75 per mile traveled.
- In Chicago, that same level of care runs about $900, plus $17 per mile traveled.
If the servicer is in your insurance network, the bill you get can depend on your health plan, which may require a copay, coinsurance and/or meeting a deductible. If you get care from an out-of-network ambulance service, pricing may be hard to pin down until after the fact.
But it’s not like ambulances have their network affiliations, or their pricing, displayed on their fleet. So how do you keep costs down when you don’t know what they are?
How to Mitigate Ambulance Costs Before, During and After Your Ride
One of the best ways to manage costs is to safeguard your savings against them. Search for the emergency services providers and fees in your town or county, and check your insurance coverage to see your cost responsibilities for taking emergency transport. Both of these values can give you a broad idea of how big of a cushion you might need, should the unthinkable happen.
But if it does happen, you could refuse the ambulance ride that someone else called for you if you feel your needs aren’t a true medical emergency. However, you may still get a bill even if they don’t transport you to the hospital. And if you choose to take the ambulance, you may be able to manage your overall costs if you request that they take you to an in-network hospital. You just have to know your nearest one ahead of time.
After you receive the bill, you may want to call the ambulance company to make sure they correctly coded the charge to your insurance. You may also be able to request a payment plan to amortize the costs over time.
Ambulance Benefits From Supplemental Insurance
Supplemental insurance can help cover the costs of unexpected health events, including ambulance rides, in a big way. Depending on the plan, some policies — such as accident or critical illness plans — may offer lump sum payouts as much of as $250 or more for a ground or air ambulance, plus separate payouts for hospital admission — all regardless of network affiliation. Policyholders can use those benefits in any way they choose, from covering medical bills to paying the rent.
After all, it’s best to have financial protections in place so that you can get the care you need — rather than skipping it because you’re afraid of the cost. That way, if disaster strikes, you’ll be a little more prepared to make the right call — especially when that call is to 911.