Ambulance costs around Australia: why is it free in some states and not others?

| 20.07,18. 01:56 PM |

Ambulance costs around Australia: why is it

?free in some states and not others

Photo: Fees for ambulance services vary around Australia. (ABC News: Scott Ross)

A good Samaritan in Melbourne who called an ambulance for an injured man yesterday spoke out about being chased by debt collectors seeking payment for the call-out.

But Queenslanders and Tasmanians who read the story may have been confused — in those states, the State Government provides free emergency ambulance services (but only if you're a Queensland or Tasmanian resident).

That is not the case across the country.

A survey by last year found almost 25 per cent of Australians wrongly believed the service was covered by Medicare.

In states other than Queensland and Tasmania, ambulance services are covered either by private health insurance or are out of pocket.

The out-of-pocket costs also vary from state to state, with some charging a fee per kilometre and other states charging a single set fee depending on the type of call-out.

University of New South Wales health sociologist Dr Sophie Lewis said the confusion stemmed from people assuming ambulance calls were covered by the public health system.

"Ambulance is one of those areas that people don't even think about when they take out a policy," Dr Lewis said.

"It's an area where there is confusion about whether they are or aren't covered.

"So some people will assume that they're covered for ambulance and sort of see it as an extension of the public healthcare system, when in fact in many states it isn't covered."

The costs still apply if someone calls one for you

In Victoria, people can choose to apply for Ambulance Victoria membership, paying a fee to receive emergency transport.

The annual membership fee in Victoria for a family is $92.05 and $46 for a single person.

The average cost of an emergency transport in Victoria is more than $1,100, according to their website.

But the cost can also apply if someone else calls an ambulance for you — even if you refuse service.

Coastal Victorian resident Michael said his 21-year-old son had just finished a difficult surf when a concerned passer-by called him an ambulance.

Although his son refused service, he was still hit with a $500 bill for the call-out.

"I guess it's also an awareness thing for people," Michael said.

"How important it is to get the cover, but also, not just that but that there's times when an ambulance gets called — not by you — and you've got to pay the bill.

"I don't get that."

Which states have to pay?

Victoria, New South Wales, the NT and the ACT provide free ambulance cover for pensioners and low-income earners, but most Australians will be stung with a large call-out fee and a per kilometre charge if they don't have health insurance or ambulance cover.

Some states will waive an ambulance charge for people who meet certain criteria.

Australian National University Associate Professor Michael Eburn said ambulance charges vary depending on the jurisdiction.

"In NSW for example, the debt is actually proceeded with as if it's a fine and it goes through the state debt recovery office and various steps are taken to enforce it," he said.

According to the Ambulance Service of NSW, ambulance fees are based on a call-out charge plus a per-kilometre charge.

Kilometres are based on the round trip between the ambulance station, pick-up address, destination and return to the ambulance station, according to the Ambulance NSW website.

NSW residents will only be billed for 51 per cent of the actual charge with the State Government subsidising the remainder.

If you live in Western Australia, you need to pay similar cover as Victorians, and any costs will be paid by the patient.

St John Ambulance in WA list fees ranging between $473 for a patient transfer vehicle and $967 for a life-threatening or urgent call-out.

In Western Australia those over the age of 65 who receive a pension are entitled to free service, while those who don't receive a pension but are still over 65 get a 50 per cent discount.

Similarly in the Northern Territory, you have to pay based on a call-out fee and a per-kilometre fee.

Alternatively, paying a subscription to St John Ambulance gets you emergency transport services in the NT.

South Australians also need to pay for ambulance cover, with discounts for pensioners.

Queensland and Tasmania are the only states where emergency ambulance services are provided free by the State Government.

Associate Professor Eburn said regardless of stories about big bills, no-one should avoid calling an ambulance because of cost.

"To use a sort of workplace example, there's a visitor in your workplace, they're sitting in your workplace, they're complaining of feeling ill, you want to call an ambulance, they don't want one, what are you going to do?" he said.

"You can't just leave them there. So my view would always be, when in doubt, call an ambulance."


•Membership fee to Ambulance Victoria

•Free cover for pensioners, low-income earners


•Call-out charge plus a per-kilometre charge

•Government subsidises 49 per cent of fee


•Fees ranging between $473 for patient transfer vehicle and $967 for life-threatening or urgent call-out

•Pensioners entitled to free service


•Membership fee to SA Ambulance

•Call-out fees up to $976, plus kilometre fee of $5.60


•Call-out fee and a per-kilometre fee


•Set call-out fees up to $959

•Free ambulance cover for pensioners


•Fees covered by State Government


•Fees covered by State Government


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