Ambulances remain exempt from surprise-billing legislation

Although Congress passed a measure to ban surprise billing for emergency and scheduled care Dec. 21, ambulance rides — the largest source of unexpected out-of-network medical bills — are left out of the legislation, according to The New York Times

The law bans providers from billing patients out-of-network rates when they receive care from out-of-network physicians unexpectedly. It also holds patients harmless in these situations.

According to the Times, lawmakers saw adding ambulances to the measure as being too hard, and they were worried about arguing with local governments which typically oversee the services. Lawmakers also had little data on the actual cost of ambulance trips, the Times reported.

"From a policy standpoint, the omission of ground ambulances is huge," Karan Chhabra, MD, a surgical resident at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston who has studied the issue, told the Times. "It affects a really large number of people, even if the size of the bills isn’t eye-popping."

Research by Dr. Chhabra has found that 71 percent of ambulance rides may result in a surprise bill, resulting in $129 million in surprise bills each year, according to the Times. The average cost per patient breaks down to $450.

This is not the first time lawmakers have left out ambulances in surprise-billing proposals. Last year, senators left ground ambulances out of fixes as well, citing that states can regulate those rides.

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