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NBC News: High ambulance costs surprise families in times of need

High ambulance costs surprise families in times of need
NBC News
March 6, 2018

Dave Ross’ teenage son, Dave Jr., had sharp chest pains, and his doctor feared a punctured lung. So when the doctor ordered an ambulance to take Dave Jr. to the hospital, a worried Ross readily agreed. All he thought about was getting help for his son, and fast.

The pain turned out to be a pulled muscle, and Ross, who lives in Framingham, Massachusetts, was relieved. But his gratitude turned to shock when he got an ambulance bill for $2,400, for a ride of less than two miles.

Ross then learned what an increasing number of Americans are finding out: Their town ambulance services, once financed by local taxes, are a thing of the past.

It turned out that the ambulance service Ross used is run not by the city of Framingham, but by a private company, American Medical Response. Many cities trying to cut costs, and save taxpayers money — especially after the recession of 2008 — have contracted with private companies.

For-profit ambulance companies are a growth business, said Betsy Imholz, special projects director at Consumers Union, where ambulance services account for a quarter of the complaints about surprise medical bills. Privatizing ambulance services might save towns money, but consumers are caught in the middle, Imholz said.

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