A Costly Ambulance Ride

NBC 7 Responds helps a Del Mar man through an out-of-state insurance nightmare.

Frank Phelan was jolted out of bed one October night in 2018. His heart was racing. The Del Mar resident immediately went to the closest urgent care.

“The doctor started an IV and put the EKG on, and right then he goes, ‘Oh, what are you doing here? You need to be in the emergency room.’”

The doctor called an ambulance to take him to the hospital. After six hours, doctors released Phelan. Lucky for him it was just a false alarm. 

But, weeks later Phelan had another emergency, however this time, it wasn’t a medical emergency.

“When I got the bill, I noticed that they paid zero dollars to the ambulance company,” said Phelan. “At first, I thought they probably included it in the emergency room bill.”

But unfortunately for Phelan, that wasn’t the case. Phelan called his insurance provider, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama.

“They told me that the ambulance company is an out-of-network provider and they don't have agreements with any of the ambulance companies in California,” he said.

Phelan started making phone calls, including a call to the California’s Attorney General’s Office but everyone said the same thing; it was out of their jurisdiction.

“Nobody wanted to listen to me, a $3,000 bill for a 15 minute ambulance ride which is more than I pay in insurance premiums all year,” said Phelan. “It's like, you’ve got to be kidding me. You can't do this.”

Phelan worked on it for six months until he finally decided to call NBC 7 Responds for help.

We reached out to Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama and sent them Phelan’s paperwork.

A few weeks later, Phelan got the results he hoped for.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Alabama made a “one-time exception” and paid Phelan $2,400 for the ambulance ride.

“The company agreed to process my ambulance bill as an in-network charge,” Phelan told NBC 7 Responds. “While I believe ambulances used for emergency situations should be covered regardless of whether Blue Cross has negotiated a contract, I take this as a win and hope I don’t have to take another ambulance ride until I can get some decent health care coverage."

Blue Cross/Blue Shield did not respond to a request for comment.

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