Surprising costs of ambulance rides around the Valley

PHOENIX - You can't put a price on someone's life, but there can be a price when it comes to saving someone's life with an ambulance. 

ABC15 took a special look at the cost of ambulance rides, how they vary from city to city, and what's really behind those costs.  

"I don't know if you believe in angels, God, vibes, but something was there," explained Linda Vasquez. Whatever it was, it was something that saved Vasquez's life. 

"I could have been dead. I should have been dead," she said.

In November 2011, Vasquez was involved in a head-on crash at 19th Avenue and McDowell Road. Thankfully, she walked away with only a concussion and some cuts and scrapes, but it was the financial bruising that surprised her the most. 

"Seven hundred dollars just for them to show up," explained Vasquez. 

That was just part of the ambulance bill Vasquez got in the mail months after the crash. That ambulance took Vasquez from the crash site to St. Joseph's hospital, just 2.5 miles away. 

"The ride was literally less than five minutes," said Vasquez.

Vasquez, like so many others, didn't know how much an ambulance was. These are costs insurance companies may not cover, costs that are established by the Arizona Department of Health Services. 

Ambulance calls are typically divided into "basic" and "advanced" life support with advanced life support being for more serious calls and can sometimes cost a little more. 

"We don't want people making that decision whether they should or shouldn't go to the hospital with a price tag over their heads," explained Capt. Larry Subervi with the Phoenix Fire Department. "But at the same time, there is a cost for us to provide that service."

According to figures from the state, an advanced life support ambulance ride starts around $930 in Phoenix, but it's not the same Valleywide. 

In Gilbert, for instance, the ride is a little cheaper, costing about $910. 

And in parts of Pinal County, the price of the ride can skyrocket with one ambulance provider billing more than $2,200.  

Again, these are rates the state allows different cities and ambulance companies to build, but what you pay is ultimately determined by you and your insurance provider. 

But it results in an even bigger question, what's behind the huge difference in price?  

It turns out, it really is a case-by-case basis. Costs can vary by person and emergency. 

Things to consider are whether you live in a rural area, how far are you are from a hospital or trauma center, and if the city that the call originates from has any tax money to help offset the costs. 

For Vasquez, it was a tough pill to swallow, which is why she and ABC15 are warning you now. 

"Honestly, I hate to say this, but I don't ever want to have to use an ambulance," said Vasquez. 

We spoke to some cities and departments. Some of them said they bill insurance companies and whatever is left is ultimately written off by the city, but not all places operate like that. 

If you'd like to see the current rate schedule, click here.

An interactive map showing coverage areas can be found by clicking here.

If you'd like to review the Arizona statutes, click here.

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