Ground ambulance services are exempt from the federal ban on balance billing, also known as surprise billing, and a new study published in the journal Health Affairs found that privately owned ambulances are more likely to balance bill than their public sector counterparts. The study’s findings will doubtless be considered by a new federal panel convened to recommend solutions to the complexities of ground ambulance balance billing, which could shape potential legislation to fix the problem in the current Congress — legislation that could find the federal government setting rates for ambulance reimbursement.
A key reason that ground ambulance services were not included in the No Surprises Act (NSA) — the 2020 law that bans medical balance billing — is the ownership structure of ambulance services. About 60% of ground ambulance providers are funded by local governments as part of their fire departments or as a quasi-utility, according to Loren Adler, a coauthor of the study and an economist and associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy. That arrangement is somewhat unique in the U.S. health care system.