New California Law Puts an End to Surprise Ambulance Bills, Protects Consumers

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A new law in California is aiming to protect consumers from surprise ambulance bills by implementing stricter regulations. Under the recently enacted legislation, patients will now be charged no more than their in-network cost for ambulance services. The law also includes provisions to limit charges for uninsured individuals to the Medi-Cal or Medicare rates. These measures are intended to provide consumers with greater transparency and financial protection when it comes to emergency medical transportation.

Katie Van Deynze, a policy and legislative advocate for Health Access California, explained that the new law ensures that consumers are aware of the charges they will incur when calling for an ambulance. Prior to this legislation, patients calling 911 were not guaranteed an in-network ambulance, leading to potential out-of-network costs and unexpected fees. This lack of transparency often resulted in exorbitant bills for patients.

In addition to addressing surprise billing, the law provides further protections for consumers who may face collections due to unpaid ambulance bills. It prohibits adverse credit reporting for unpaid ambulance bills for a period of one year and prevents wage garnishment as a means of collecting outstanding debt. These measures aim to alleviate financial burdens for patients and establish fairer practices within the ambulance industry.

The impact of this new law is significant for California residents, as it is estimated to save people with commercial health insurance approximately $44.5 million in direct charges for ambulance rides, according to a legislative analysis. The implementation of these regulations is part of an ongoing effort to increase transparency and accountability in the healthcare system.

However, the need for such legislation was underscored by the experiences of individuals like Frank Chan and his wife. After a visit to the emergency room resulted in an unnecessary ambulance ride of just 100 yards, the Chans were shocked to receive a bill of $2,255. It took them five days to resolve the issue, as both the hospital and the ambulance company debated over who was responsible for payment. This case highlights the unfairness and confusion often associated with ambulance billing practices.

The introduction of stricter regulations on ambulance billing in California is aimed at providing consumers with greater peace of mind and financial certainty during emergency situations. The implementation of clearer pricing guidelines and protections against surprise charges will undoubtedly benefit patients in need of emergency medical transportation. These regulations mark a step forward in addressing the issues of transparency and affordability within the healthcare system.