As most EMS understand, ambulance cost seems to be ever increasing for the ambulance provider.
Factors like NFPA guidelines that govern the requirements of ambulance manufacturing, as well as the equipment and supplies used on ambulances, are rapidly causing increases in cost. Also considering the cost of fuel, personnel and supplies and it is no wonder that the average ambulance trip costs the service approx. $1500-$1800. Even the type of area affects the cost, with rural pickups causing even more expense.
Non-Medically Necessary Transports
With the rising costs to the provider, the flip side of that is that reimbursements are not increasing at the same rate-if at all.
For example, an urban base rate of $324.28 reimbursed in 2016 only increased 1.1% in 2017, with a reimbursement average of $340.08.
When a call to 911 is placed and the ambulance takes the patient to the hospital, ambulance providers may or may not get reimbursed by the insurance for the transport. The insurance bases the reimbursement on the level of “Medical Necessity” of transport.
The fact that the costs are rising for the provider, as well as the fact that general reimbursement is not keeping up with these costs is causing mounting strain on ambulance services. On top of these facts, on average, 15% of the transports made by an ambulance service in a year are not paid at all. With the Cash Per Trip rate (or CPT) being only around $350, even though the cost of the service is upwards of $1500, and sometimes not reimbursed at all, ambulance services need to find every avenue to reduce their costs and the “Non-Medically Necessary” patients they transport.
What Can Ambulance Services Do To Reduce Cost?
Fire Departments and Ambulance Services such as the Houston Fire Department are looking at alternative methods of providing transport to these “Non-Medically Necessary” patients by utilizing services such as Uber and Lyft. The goal is to get these patients that do not require an ambulance to the hospital or to their doctor without needing the ambulance at all. There is a portion of these patients that are utilizing an ambulance since they have no other means of transportation available to them to get to their appointments, and in order to reduce this situation and reduce the unnecessary cost on providers, these types of services are being utilized.
Agencies are also working with their local health departments to find alternative methods of treating for the non-emergent patients by providing a direct audio/video link from the field to a physician, which can cut a high percentage of the non-emergent and non-reimbursable patients that are currently transported by ambulance to the ER. Connecting the first responder with the physician immediately is a solution that is gaining more attention, as it provides a means for the patient to be immediately evaluated by the ER doctor. Solutions such as the Inquire MD app even integrate with bluetooth Blood Pressure, Pulse and Pulse Oximetry devices for immediate collaboration and determination on whether the patient needs to be seen or offered an alternative service. To read more about Inquire MD, click here.
Providers are frequently trying to find solutions the $1,500.00 cost to transport via ambulance. The cost doesn’t always get reimbursed by the insurance, and when it does it is at a fraction of the true cost of service. Alternative solutions, such as Inquire MD, direct audio/video collaboration with doctors, and Uber and Lift are being considered more in order to reduce the utilization of the service for Non-Medically Necessary trips, which also makes that ambulance available for another higher acuity transport.