High ambulance costs delay treatment in emergencies

Consumers Health Forum calls for universal ambulance cover 

CHF has launched a major campaign to start a discussion on creating a nationally consistent access standard for ambulance services across Australia.

CHF partnered with the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA) and the National Stroke Foundation in highlighting the need for an ambulance funding overhaul, because too many consumers across the nation are delaying essential treatment.

The campaign came about through frustration at the varying levels of cover provided between states and territories, significant variations in cost and evidence that consumers were specifically delaying calling an ambulance due to cost concerns.

CHF CEO Carol Bennett said it was unacceptable that such variation in cost and cover still existed in an area that should be regarded as an essential component of the health system.

“If you walk into any emergency room at a public hospital in the country you will receive diagnosis and treatment if needed at no cost, regardless of location,” Ms Bennett said.

“Ambulances are free in Queensland and Tasmania and everywhere else most consumers have to pay, either directly or through private health insurance or other subscription schemes.

“In 2013, it is unacceptable that costs for ambulances can vary from free to uncapped expenses that can reach over $5,500 simply to get to a hospital.”

Figures collected by state and territory ambulance services show that over 3 million ambulances were called out nationwide in the year 2010/2011 – most were emergencies.

According to research by the National Heart Foundation, more than 40 per cent of uninsured people in states and territories without universal ambulance cover consider that it is too expensive to call for an ambulance.

“To have a system where people deliberately don’t call an ambulance in an emergency situation because they think they can’t afford it is unacceptable. Outside Queensland and Tasmania, ambulances are an additional cost. In some cases, people may be thousands of dollars out of pocket,” Ms Bennett said.

“Why don’t we have universal ambulance cover? We have universal access to health care and education, but there is no consistent or national standard for access to ambulances. We have bolted ambulance services on to a fragmented health system, despite the fact that they are essential first line services in the provision of health care. Making them an out of pocket optional extra is ridiculous.”