Hospitals passing the buck for ambo bills

Insured patients left to foot bills of $5000 for ambulance trips between hospitals.

Ambulance bill stings patients

Ambulance cover complaints have more than doubled in 10 years with many patients being stung for up to $5000 for transfers between hospitals, the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office revealed yesterday.

In a bulletin on health insurance grievances, the office said that overall, the number of complaints was normalising, falling to 940 between October and December from 1222 in the previous quarter.

The decline of 23 per cent was the third quarterly fall from this year’s peak of more than 1410 complaints in the March quarter.

However, the office said that complaints about ambulance cover in insurance policies were rising largely because patients were unaware that sometimes they were liable for transport between hospitals.

“For example, if a small regional hospital admits a patient who arrives by emergency ambulance only to transfer them to a larger metropolitan hospital, then an ambulance account is usually paid for by the ‘losing’ hospital that couldn’t treat the patient,” the office said.

“If, however, the losing hospital doesn’t formally admit the patient and instead treats them as an outpatient, they can avoid paying the ambulance account because they no longer consider it a ‘hospital to hospital’ transfer. If a hospital chooses not to admit a patient and instead books a second ambulance to send them to another hospital, the ambulance bill becomes the responsibility of the patient to pay.”

The office sounded a warning for patients to check their health insurance company’s level of ambulance cover, because most policies do not extend to transfers or to non-emergency transport.

“In some instances, consumers are incurring costs of up to $5000 when they are treated on an outpatient basis by a local hospital which then transfers them to another hospital,” according to the bulletin.

“Although there are not many instances of this type of failure in the system occurring, for the unlucky few, the out-of-pocket costs can be considerable.’’

The office said it would discuss its concerns over ambulance cover complaints with public hospitals, ambulance providers and health insurers.

More information about the nature of complaints received in the December quarter can be found here.

If you cannot resolve a dispute about your health insurance, call the Ombudsman’s Office on 1300 737 299 or send an email to

Have you ever been left footing the bill for an ambulance trip? Does your health insurance have you fully covered for ambulance trips?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Nan Norma
    22nd Feb 2018
    Fully covered in Qld.
    22nd Feb 2018
    I'm assuming this is in Victoria? How is Ambulance and Emergency Services funded in Victoria? Is Victoria the worst state for funding it's essential services?
    That $600m they spent to NOT get a road built could have gone to the Ambulance Service?
    22nd Feb 2018
    The States that privatised first under our grand neo-liberals will be starting to run out of money now. It was always going to end up user pay under a bunch of "conservatives".
    22nd Feb 2018
    Is it part of your rates bill Norma ?
    Chris B T
    22nd Feb 2018
    In QLD it was attached to the Electricity Bill for some years.
    Now it is Free to all QLD Residents Australia Wide.
    Hospital hopping no Problem.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Thanks Chris
    25th Feb 2018
    The different rules for people in different states create major problems. A visitor to another state might think they have cover, but it only applies in the home state.
    22nd Feb 2018
    This is terrible & what makes it worse is state to state changes as with so many other things We are 1 country .look at children services parents can do wrong in 1 state move without notifing them & do the wrong thing & police ect are none the wiser. Yes i know I'm of track but it's an example. We so need a unifrmed system but NO .
    We had a friend in hospital that needed a mri that the hospital didn't have theyput he in an taxi with a nurse & sent her to the uni.were she had it. The cost of the nurse to go with her place taking her off the ward is a disgrace.
    The past present governments have a lot to answer too.
    The monies that are wasted plus sent oversea could be put to better use here.
    Old Geezer
    22nd Feb 2018
    Looks like I'm about to get a big bill as I was transferred by ambulance from the out patients of the local hospital to a major hospital only last week. It will be interesting to see what happens. I wasn't allowed to be transferred privately to the major hospital even though it would have been far more comfortable than being in the back of an ambulance.
    22nd Feb 2018
    I hope I am right and things haven’t changed but I am pretty sure that the transferring hospital pays for the inter-hospital transfer. You only pay for transfer say from home, car to hospital. Good luck OG.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Good luck. Perhaps if you weren't allowed to use your own transport the hospital will cover the cost. It still seems like a stupid system when theoretically the medicare surcharge should cover a universal hospital and services bill. Too many greedy private operators in the game now, including the insurance companies.
    22nd Feb 2018
    In SA you have to have to have separate cover.If you have not got this then you need to ensure that you have cover 6 months ahead. Just missed out. Private hospital did cover the cost of transfer vi disability access cab. Different rules for different states.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Scurrilous pack of bastards, the lot of them ! Everywhere you turn in Australia today there's some damned outfit beavering away to mercilessly rip off the ordinary bloke ! Why the hell cannot Australia have a single unified Australia wide policy for ambulance cover ? How does that become so difficult to achieve ? Morons !
    22nd Feb 2018
    Fully agree. Perhaps Yourlifechoices should petition the Govt. on behalf of its readers?
    22nd Feb 2018
    No Problem in Queensland. Victoria is not Australia.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Queensland, Victoria, NSW, SA, WA and NT are all the same bit of dirt and should be treated as one unified chunk of earth, same rules and regulations to apply universally. Queensland is NOT different.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Queensland thinks differently! :-)
    22nd Feb 2018
    Queensland kept some of it's revenue raising utilities didn't it?
    22nd Feb 2018
    Queenslanders are not renowned for possessing fine intellects - unlike NSW and Victoria.
    22nd Feb 2018
    is the a.c.t covered for this
    22nd Feb 2018
    In NSW ambulance fees are based on a call out charge plus a per kilometre charge. Kilometres are based on the round trip between the ambulance station, pick up address, destination and return to the ambulance station. NSW residents pay 51% of the final charge and the State Government covers the other 49%. Medicare does not cover the bill.

    Non-residents from Queensland and SA do not have a reciprocal rights agreement with NSW so pay almost double the NSW residency fees! You can see the charges here:

    Pensioners, health care or Commonwealth seniors concession card holders, Veterans and individuals who hold basic private health insurance or ‘ambulance only’ cover will remain exempt from ambulance fees in NSW.
    Old Geezer
    22nd Feb 2018
    I live in NSW and rang my health fund and they said I was covered anywhere in Australia. I am not on welfare so it doesn't cover me.

    22nd Feb 2018
    Is it still the case that pensioners are exempt from ambulance costs?
    22nd Feb 2018
    Only if they die along the way
    22nd Feb 2018
    Regardless of which state - I'm in NSW (or if federally) they are talking about, this is disgraceful and should not be allowed under any circumstances. This is what we pay for ambulance cover for after all, transport by an ambulance in the event of needing one. Particularly hard on rural patients which is another blow.
    22nd Feb 2018
    I think the sooner we get rid of states it will be a good thing, across the board. Take best practice from all states and run with that, be it health, road rules/registration etc - whatever.
    22nd Feb 2018
    You are right Joyful.
    Think of how much money the country would save not having to pay for state politicians and all their hangers on.
    Add all the superfluous public servants that could be released if you had an efficient national operation.
    22nd Feb 2018
    While it is free in Qld, BUPA do not reduce their premiums so we pay anyway.
    Had to use Qld ambulance 3 times for family crises and they are all top notch and deserve a big pat on the back.
    22nd Feb 2018
    Ambulance is free for seniors in Victoria, others pay membership to Ambulance Victoria and transport is free. If you are transferred from one hospital to another and the doctor has signed the transfer, its free. If you request a transfer, you pay. AV only takes you to the nearest hospital, and the service is second to none.So, Victorians - JOIN

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