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In October, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed sweeping legislation to curtail many forms of so-called surprise medical billing. The measure shields insured patients from out-of-network medical charges during an emergency. And for nonemergency care, it puts the onus on medical providers to provide patients advanced notice of out-of-network costs and an opportunity to find someone in their network. That followed an earlier measure that banned surprise bills for air ambulance flights, which can stick consumers with bills upward of $20,000.
But while patients are now protected against surprise bills by air ambulances, Michigan’s law does not yet cover ground ambulance bills, like the one received by Kenna’s parents. Nor does federal billing reform legislation buried within the $900 billion COVID stimulus measure signed Dec. 27 by President Trump.
That’s despite a recent University of Michigan study which found that most patients transported by ambulance faced a potential surprise bill because the company providing the ride was out of network, allowing them to charge more ($450 was the median bill for ground transport). The study noted that patients from just one large national insurance company faced an “aggregate impact” of $129 million a year.
“Anecdotally, we hear of more people taking Uber or a Lyft, or having someone drive them to the emergency room to avoid an ambulance bill,” said study author Karan Chhabra, a clinical scholar at the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“That tells me the system is broken,” he told Bridge Michigan. “If you truly need an ambulance, concerns about cost should not get in the way.”