Politics and activism

Ambulance membership fees drop by half this Friday

I missed the media coverage of this: Coalition cuts ambulance membership fees in half:

“From July 1, ambulance membership costs will drop from $150 to $75 a year for families and $75 to $37.50 a year for singles – that is just 20 cents a day for families and 10 cents a day for singles,” Mr Davis said.

Ambulance stuck at level crossing - another reason for grade separation

While some might have concerns that the ambulance service needs more investment to keep up with demand, I thought this was a good policy. For many people, $150 is enough for a family subscription that you’d think twice before paying it. Halving it to $75 makes it pretty much a no-brainer.

I’m not even sure if a measure like this necessarily means a lot more demand for ambulances. In fact it might well attract a lot more subscribers (apart from the increased government subsidy to cover the price drop).

So… if you were thinking about joining or renewing, given they don’t seem to have announced anything around refunding or extending existing memberships, you might want to wait until Friday when the prices go down!

(Knowing the Coalition had this policy, this is why at the start of this year I renewed for one year, not three as they were suggesting.)

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

19 replies on “Ambulance membership fees drop by half this Friday”

I renewed for three years in August last year, so I will have almost two years at the higher rate… The cynical part of me thinks that they are keeping it quiet so that people don’t realise and they won’t have to refund or extend memberships.

Getting ambulance and health cover has been on my to-do list for I don’t know how long…this might inspire me to finally do it! (Provided someone reminds me on Friday…)

@Daniel, thanks for bringing this to our attention. This was news to me.

I’m somewhere in the middle of a five-year ambulance membership renewal – I forget exactly when I renewed it – so I’ll be a bit peeved if existing subscribers who have paid well in advance don’t get the advantage of this price drop.

@Amanda: I can definitely recommend being an ambulance subscriber. I’ve been one for almost 30 years, and I know from personal experience just how much a trip can cost if you’re not a subscriber.

During the mid 1980s, a friend had a serious accident on the Otway coast, which required rescue by police and SES and transport to hospital in Melbourne by ambulance helicopter. He did have ambulance cover; however, no doubt due to the drama of the rescue and the fact that they were concentrating on saving his life rather than getting his membership details, an administrative glitch occurred and he subsequently received a bill from Ambulance Victoria. A quick phone call to them sorted it out, and naturally he didn’t have to pay, but my point is, he showed me the bill at the time, and I still remember the amount: $937. In mid-1980s money. It would be many thousands of dollars in today’s money. I’d never even seen a bill that large at the time! It was a crippling amount for him, which he just did not have in those days, so he was enormously relieved that he’d had the good sense to take out an ambulance subscription.

I myself was rushed to hospital in an ambulance around 10 or 15 years ago. Again, due to some administrative glitch, a bill arrived, and again, I just gave Ambulance Victoria my membership number, and the bill was cancelled. This time the trip was only across three or four suburbs, but I was staggered to find that the bill was many hundreds of dollars. People don’t realise: it’s not like a taxi fare. A single short trip in an ambulance can be equivalent to the cost of many years of ambulance membership. And that’s only the money-saving aspect of it; the other reassuring aspect if your condition is life-threatening is that there’s a trained paramedic by your side doing their best to keep you alive until you get to hospital. It’s tremendously calming. It sure beats sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car or a taxi, wondering if you’ll die before you get there.

I’m sure some people think: I’m young, I’m healthy, I’ve never been in hospital, why do I need ambulance cover? But a serious accident can happen to anyone.

We Brits moan about our National Health Service, but we’ve got it pretty good by all accounts. Maybe one day we’ll have to pay for ambulances too…

I would imagine that ambulance cover would be essential for anyone without private health insurance. Unless ambulance is not covered in private health in Vic when it would be essential for everyone. So good on your government for bringing this in.

I have never used it but I work in disability employment and get very worried when a client needs an ambulance as most do not have private health and I know they just can’t afford the cost of the ambulance. Lower costs would ensure that they could all afford ambulance cover.

I’m fairly sure ambulance fees are included in my NIB private health coverb plan but thanks for the reminder to check this out for sure. Is it true that some Australian states cover the cost of ambulances and there is no need for ambulance cover in these states?

The media coverage and Ambulance Victoria were silent on what happens to people with private health insurance – who are covered for transportation “which is necessary because of a medical condition” .
It is not clear to me whether the statistics quoted about people “without cover” include or exclude those with private health insurance.

Be very careful about assuming your private health insurance cover will pay in all circumstances.

Several years ago, my private health insurer revamped its packages, and I found myself with an Extras package that included emergency ambulance transport.

Oh good, I thought. That means I can drop my Ambulance Victoria membership and save a bit of money. So I rang AV, but the woman I spoke to urged me to reconsider. She said she had personal experience, on several occasions, of private health insurance companies digging in their heels and refusing to pay, arguing that the ambulance trip wasn’t an emergency, that the patient wasn’t in mortal danger and could have made his or her way to hospital by other means. This left the patients with a substantial bill that they thought they were covered for, and no doubt considerable distress at what was already a traumatic time.

In contrast, she said, an AV membership will cover the full cost of your trip for *any* reason at all. If the paramedics deem it advisable to load you in the back of the ambulance and take you to hospital, then that’s good enough for AV administration – they won’t haggle over it.

Now, one could argue that the AV employee had a vested interest in getting me to retain my membership. But I have no reason to believe she was making all this up. In any case, I found her argument convincing, and I’ve retained my AV membership ever since, even though my private health insurance package still claims to cover the cost of ambulance trips.

Note that I am referring only to the kind of insurance cover that pays the cost of ambulance *transport*. I believe some private health insurers refund part or all of AV membership *fees*. That’s quite different, and in fact, it’s ideal.

Bonnie, you hit the nail on the head when you said that AV has a vested interest. Next time you get told this by AV, ask them:
* can I have what you just told me in writing, in an email? Or can you put this advice on your website? If not, why not?
* Show me the health insurance policy (eg website) that uses the words “emergency” or “mortal danger” when stating what ambulance trip they will pay for. All the advice I’ve seen says “medically necessary” or equivalent. So the situation doesn’t need to be life-threatening, you could have multiple leg fractures and decide taking the friggin bus to the clinic won’t help!

What I don’t understant is why we bother having a public health system when some of the most basic elements are not part of the service!

Ambulances should be a no brainer in any public health system. The last thing someone should be thinking about if they need an ambulance is “will this cost me $3,000, did I remember to renew my membership last year when all those bills were pilling up?”

If Ambulance insurance can cost as little as $75 for a family and if everyone on either a Health Care Card or Pensioners Card is already covered, then really how much more could it cost to include this basic service in the public health system?

@roger, you make a fair point about asking for verbal advice to be followed up in writing. That’s good advice when dealing with any organisation, not just AV or insurance companies. At the very least, these days I ask for the name of the person to whom I’m speaking, and I write this down, together with the date and time of the conversation, and all relevant details. I also tell them I’m doing that. (It’s amazing how many of them say “I’ll just go check with my supervisor to make sure what I’ve told you is correct” when you tell them you’re writing down their name!) This conversation was so long ago, however, that I’ve lost track of the details I wrote down at the time.

However, I still have no reason to believe this woman was lying (and she did say it was based on actual cases she had dealt with, not just hypotheticals). Moreover, I’d argue that the hard questions should be put not to AV, but to one’s health insurer. They’re the ones who are making the claim about what they’re prepared to cover.

I agree that a health insurer shouldn’t refuse to cover an ambulance trip for a compound fracture of the leg. But not all ambulance cases are anywhere near as straightforward. For example, the symptoms of a heart attack overlap with the symptoms of a whole range of other conditions, some relatively benign. The general rule among medical professionals is: consider it to be a heart attack until proven otherwise. What if you call an ambulance for what you genuinely fear could be a heart attack, and it turns out to be heartburn, or gallstones, or even a panic attack? (My elderly father has recently started having panic attacks, and his symptoms are very real and very frightening. He has called an ambulance on at least one occasion that I know of, and probably more that he won’t admit to, because he was convinced he was having a heart attack, and he took quite a bit of reassuring by medical personnel that he wasn’t.) Another example: what if you sustain a hard knock to the head, with a brief period of unconsciousness, and the paramedics advise taking you to hospital to get it checked out, “just in case”, and it turns out that you’re fine? I’m not at all convinced that health insurers will cough up under these circumstances. Perhaps they will, but I’d like to be certain before I drop my AV membership.

AV can be expected to err on the side of safety because they don’t want a dead patient on their hands. Health insurers will err on the side of not wanting to pay for something if they can possibly avoid it, because they are trying to keep costs down and profits up. Therefore there’s potentially a very large grey area within the definition of “medically necessary”. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there’s wide disagreement between these two bodies, and I think the onus is on the health insurer to make it very clear who it is who gets to decide what “medically necessary” means in each case. Ideally, it should be the paramedics who decide, because they’re the ones on the scene and it’s their call whether the patient should be transported to hospital or not.

bonnie, if anyone out there has chest pain: CALL AN AMBULANCE!!! Patients are not expected to accurately diagnose an illness. If you end up spending a few hours in Emergency Dept having tests and they tell you it was indigestion, the doctor will say you did the right thing by having your condition assessed ASAP. AV will charge for this trip but you can flick the bill to health insurance. If this were the not the case then Today Tonight would be full of battlers being ripped off by their insurers.

@Roger and Bonnie, I work for a health insurer and a colleague was once experiencing racing heartbeat/palpitations and didn’t know what was wrong but generally didn’t feel too bad. Another colleague convinced her to call an ambulance. She was taken to hospital and was actually diagnosed with a mild heart condition but at the time it was definitely not life treatening and probably never would be. Regardless, her ambulance claim to her insurer was paid no worries. I can’t remember if she was contract or full-time staff at the time, so I’m not sure if there was any employee bias but from what I understand, you will always be covered by your health insurer, even ifit was indigestion.

What won’t be covered however, is if you were injured away from home and required ambulance transport from hospital to hospital to move you closer to home. But each policy will vary so check the fine print…

And yes, ALWAYS CALL AN AMBULANCE if you think it’s your heart, I know two people who have died because they didn’t. And don’t do what my mum does, tries to drive herself to the hospital when she’s not well!

Bonnie has highlighted how the whole health insurance industry is basically a scam. Its not insurance at all.

It Nsw ambulance cover is available from private health insurance on it’s own or in hospital cover. I like the qld method though – there is a levy on electricity bills, and everyone is covered.

I’m another who has paid in advance and still has 2 years membership remaining. I’m really angry that this hasn’t automatically been reduced to bring in line with the changes (why am I disadvantaged for doing the right thing and paying in advance as AV suggested)?? On reading the Q&A on their website, I’m getting the impression I can apply for a refund for the remaining years, and will then have to reapply for membership at the reduced price. I may have to wait the mandatory 60 days before my cover kicks in …….. but this all seems bloody unfair to me. What do others think?

Rachel i had the same issue but seems its a gvt policy and there is no funding for us existing members, but i get the benefit in 22 months time. Fair enough really as one ambo trip is over $1000 and i bought a new plamsa 6 months ago that is $700 cheaper now and dont get the difference. Hope i never need an ambulance anyway!

Some people really have no idea do they?
Having the fees is a good initiative for those people that are finding less money to spend on insurance. The fees already were not expensive, compared to the cost of transport, now there is no excuse not to protect you and your family.
What really annoys me is all these selfish people that are asking for refunds on money they have already given to the ambulance service. Do you not realise that every dollar you take back is one less dollar being used to put paramedics on the road? AV is NOT FOR PROFIT. So all the money raised by people taking up membership is re-invested into the business, and the business is saving lives. “Oh, the fees are halving. I want my money back. Give me that $15”. Well go ahead, request a refund, just don’t complain when it takes an extra 15 mins for an ambulance to get to you or a loved one because they are understaffed. How many of you morons actually go back to a petrol station and demand your money back when the price drops the day after you fill your tank?
At worse you have ensured that you are covered against the cost of transport for a few dollars more then the guy next door. At best you just helped keep the ambulance service running, and even improving.
Think about it before taking more funds off the ambulance service… It’s not like you will miss out. When the fees go up , you still get the full term of the lower price until your next renewals..
People are so selfish these days.

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