Sick taken for a ride - HERALD SUN
Written on the 23 April 2019
Herald Sun, Melbourne
By James Dowling
Ambo patients billed millions extra
AMBULANCE Victoria is billing tens of thousands of patients millions extra a year for paramedic treatment they never received.
Victoria's fleet of "cut-price" private ambulances, who are not qualified paramedics and usually have a response target of 60 minutes, answer about 40,000 triple-0 calls a year, yet patients are still billed as if they are being treated by a qualified paramedic. Ambulance Victoria charges metropolitan patients $1234, and country patients $1820, for "paramedics' professional assessment and initial medical treatment" even if the call is answered by the second-tier private "patient transport vehicle" service.
Last week, after changes to the private ambulance contracts, almost 100 of the second-tier ambulance staff were made redundant. When pre-booked, the private non-emergency contractors cost $333 a trip for metro patients and $563 for regional and rural patients.
The difference between the prebooked rate and a triple-0 call totals at least $35 million a year.
One ambulance attendant for a private company said the billing practice was dishonest.
"We can't even call our vehicles ambulances yet they have the cheek to charge patients as if we are paramedics."
The union said non-emergency crews had a different skill set to paramedics and were paid less, which should be reflected in patients' bills.
Ambulance Employees Australia Victorian secretary Danny Hill said Ambulance Victoria needed to better explain the crucial role nonemergency crews played in driving down response times.
"Without them, response times would still be atrocious.
"The non-emergency crews are medical professionals but they have a different skill set than paramedics, the private operators also pay them significantly less.
The patient's bill should be commensurate with that."
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the state Labor government was trying to sneak through extra costs to patients because they arrogantly thought they could get away with it.
"Vulnerable Victorians are being dudded by paying emergency rates for non-emergency services," she said.
But Ambulance Victoria defended its billing practices, saying the charges reflected the overall costs of dispatching triple-0 calls, and every patient underwent a triage by a paramedic or nurse over the phone.