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EMS, insurance providers battle over cost of services

Patients stuck with leftover charges

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – There’s a battle brewing between insurers and emergency medical service providers over the cost of EMS transportation services, and patients are stuck in the middle.

The two sides met Tuesday morning to discuss possible compromises to help take some of the financial burden off patients.

A ride to the hospital in an ambulance can costs between $800 and $1,000. Insurers don’t always cover everything, and what’s left over falls on the patient.

At a special meeting between insurers and EMS providers, insurance consumer advocate Sha'Ron James searched for common ground. Each party blamed the other for cases in which patients got stuck paying outlandish charges.

“If nothing else comes out of this, that there are greater consumer protections so that consumers don't receive large, unexpected bills from providers, because insurance carriers aren't covering those valued services,” James said.

Insurers said transportation bills have been excessively high, especially with air transport.

The fix insurers favor is a ban on balance billing. It would prevent patients from picking up extra costs, requiring insurers and EMS providers to compromise on a price.

“You know, this is not a situation of egregious billing. We believe it's price gouging,” said Wences Troncoso, with the Florida Association of Health Plans.

Plant City Fire Chief Dan Azzariti said the insurers’ fix would cut critical revenue from Florida’s mostly public EMS providers.

He said he also worries about Florida’s large visitor population.

“They don't pay taxes, so any offset in cost is shifted to those who do pay taxes,” Azzariti said.

James said she will write a report consisting of best practice recommendations and contract negotiation recommendations for both insurers and EMS providers. If the two can’t agree on a resolution, she may be forced to recommend legislative fixes.