How Much Does an Ambulance Ride Cost?

Last Updated on March 4, 2024
Written by CPA Alec Pow | Content Reviewed by Certified CFA CFA Alexander Popinker

Getting emergency medical care often requires an ambulance ride, but those bills can be shockingly expensive. This article breaks down typical ambulance costs, how to reduce them through insurance and financial aid, and tips for avoiding surprise bills. Keep reading to be an informed patient.

How Much Does an Ambulance Ride Cost?

The cost of that ambulance ride can be steep, though, ranging anywhere from $400 to over $1,200 on average per trip. Calling 911 for an ambulance is something we all hope to avoid, but medical emergencies happen. Understanding what affects those fees is crucial for budgeting and reducing ambulance ride costs.

California Healthline website notes that in California, the average surprise bill for a ground ambulance ride is $1,209, with out-of-network bills being a common issue.

According to the City of Irving, TX website, a fee of $15.00 per mile is charged for the transportation by emergency ambulance of a person to a hospital.

Health Access California writes that in California, ambulance bills can cost more than $2,000 depending on insurance coverage.

What Factors into Those Pricey Ambulance Fees?

Several factors determine how much your ambulance charge will be:

  • Base Rate: This is the flat fee just for calling and riding in the ambulance, often $500-800.
  • Mileage: You’ll pay more the farther you’re transported, usually $10-30 per mile.
  • Level of Care: Basic life support is cheaper than advanced life support.
  • Type of Provider: Private ambulance companies tend to cost more than government/fire services.

Cost Comparison of Ambulance Providers

Looking at typical cost ranges can help frame expectations:

  • Private Ambulance Services: $600-1200+ per ride
  • Government EMS: $400-900 per transport
  • Air Ambulances: $20,000-50,000+ for helicopter rides

Insurance Coverage for Ambulance Bills

Having health insurance is no guarantee ambulance costs will be fully covered. You may still face high out-of-pocket expenses like:

  • Co-pays: $100-300+ per ground transport
  • Co-insurance: 10-20% of total bill
  • Deductibles: $1000+ if you haven’t met your yearly deductible

Even with insurance, your portion could be hundreds or thousands of dollars. Understanding your policy’s ambulance coverage is critical.

You might also like our articles about the cost of an emergency dentist, ER visits, and health insurance.

Six Tips for Reducing Ambulance Ride Costs

While ambulances save lives, those bills can be budget-busters. Try these strategies to make emergency transport more affordable:

  1. Use In-Network Providers: Work with ambulance companies in your insurance plan’s network.
  2. Compare Companies: Get cost estimates and choose a reasonably-priced provider for non-emergencies.
  3. Negotiate Bills: Don’t be afraid to ask for discounts, especially if uninsured.
  4. Apply for Financial Aid: Hospitals and EMS companies have financial assistance programs you may qualify for.
  5. Set Up Payment Plans: Can’t pay all at once? Ambulance services will often allow extended payment timelines.
  6. Seek Billing Help: Patient advocates and medical billing specialists can identify errors and overcharges.

Is an Ambulance in Your Budget?

The reality is most people will face hefty ambulance bills eventually, whether due to an accident, medical event, or hospital transport need. Planning ahead and understanding your payment responsibilities is key to affording this costly but often life-saving service.

Ambulance Billing Codes and Statements

American AmbulanceAmbulance bills can be very confusing, and full of medical codes and jargon. Here are some common items you may see:

  • Base Rate Code: e.g. A0428 for basic life support
  • Mileage Code: A0425 for ground transport mileage fees
  • Disposable Supplies: Charges for oxygen masks, IV supplies, etc.
  • ALS/BLS Charges: Different codes for advanced vs basic life support level of care

Don’t hesitate to ask the billing department to explain unclear items on your statement. You’re entitled to a full breakdown of charges.

When is Air Medical Transport Required?

While extremely expensive, air ambulances are sometimes medically necessary for life-threatening emergencies when every minute counts or the hospital is hours away. Air ambulance companies often are not employed by local municipalities but are private companies contracted to serve a region.

Avoiding Surprise Ambulance Bills

One of the biggest shocks can be an unexpectedly large bill if you assumed your insurance would cover more. To avoid surprise ambulance fees:

  • Ask providers upfront about full costs and what insurance will cover
  • Review your health plan’s ambulance coverage details
  • Never assume any portion will be fully covered until verified
  • Keep all ambulance ride paperwork and billing statements organized

Planning Ahead for Non-Emergency Medical Transportation

While ambulances are associated with 911 calls, they are also often needed for non-emergency situations like:

  • Transportation between hospitals
  • Discharge from inpatient care to home
  • Trips for scheduled treatments like chemotherapy, dialysis, etc.

For non-emergency needs, you have more time to shop around and find affordable options using private medical transport companies instead of emergency services. Get cost estimates from multiple providers.

Negotiating Those Ambulance Invoices

If you’re struggling to afford your ambulance bill, don’t just pay it right away. Discuss setting up a payment plan or ask if they can offer any discounts, especially if you’re uninsured. EMS companies would often prefer to recover some payment over none at all. It never hurts to negotiate.

Hiring a medical billing advocate can also be invaluable for scrutinizing charges and potentially getting fees reduced or eliminated if errors are found. Their expertise is worth the extra cost if they can significantly lower your bill.

Final Words

Ambulance ride costs can quickly escalate, ranging from $500 to over $1000, even with insurance coverage. It’s crucial to understand the details of your health plan’s ambulance coverage to avoid unexpected expenses.

If the situation permits, consider comparing different ambulance providers to find the most cost-effective option, and don’t hesitate to negotiate bills or inquire about financial assistance if the fees are unmanageable.

Additionally, for non-emergency transports, explore alternatives such as affordable medical transport services, and familiarize yourself with typical ambulance billing codes to comprehend itemized charges.

Lastly, it’s advisable not to pay significant bills upfront without verifying their accuracy to prevent overpayment.

Following these tips can help you be prepared for and better manage the often overwhelming out-of-pocket costs of emergency medical transportation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you do while waiting for an ambulance?

While waiting for an ambulance, try to remain calm and do not move the injured person unless they are in immediate danger. Monitor their breathing and be prepared to start CPR if needed. Have someone watch for the ambulance and guide them to the right location.

Can you cancel an ambulance?

Yes, you can cancel an ambulance after calling if the situation is resolved or you decide emergency transport is not needed. However, you may still be charged a fee by the ambulance service for the call.

What is the longest ambulance ride?

The longest reported ambulance ride was over 1,000 miles from Kauai, Hawaii to Honolulu after a woman went into labor on the island. The drive took 26 hours!

How fast should an ambulance come?

For life-threatening emergencies, ambulances try to arrive as quickly as possible, within 8-10 minutes in most urban areas. For non-emergency calls, response times may be 15-20 minutes or more depending on demand and location.

How do you call an ambulance if you can’t speak?

If unable to verbally call 911, you can text 911 for an ambulance in areas with that capability. There are also phone apps and devices that can automatically place an emergency call and provide your location.

2 replies
  1. tom
    tom says:

    you’ve must not have heard of Supreme ambulance. it’s a privatized ambulance service that for a literal 10 minute ride and some oxygen. charged my insurance company almost $10,000. I have full coverage blue cross blue shield and was still stuck with a $2500 bill.

  2. Maureen
    Maureen says:

    Sunday I was taken to the emergency room here in the UK by two highly qualified paramedics in a state of the art ambulance. They took my blood pressure and gave me an ecg before taking me to the hospital. That was totally free for me. Our taxes are only marginally higher than the US. The UK spends half per capita that the US spends on healthcare. I know where our money goes!


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