The cost of an ambulance in SA has doubled over the past decade
- The cost of using an ambulance in South Africa has more than doubled over the past ten years.
- Guideline prices for medical insurance companies and private ambulance services are determined according to the level of care needed while in transit.
- Basic life support is the lowest level of emergency and doesn’t require invasive treatment.
- Advanced life support in a serious medical emergency and will cost at least R4,281.29 according to the latest prices published as part of the Road Accident Fund Medical Tariff.
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Using an ambulance in South Africa can be costly, with the price of private services – depending on the extent of the emergency and level of care needed – more than doubling over the past decade.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has made us far more aware of the possibility of needing health services in a hurry,” says Shafeeka Anthony, the marketing manager of JustMoney. The personal finance website recently detailed the latest price guidelines for ambulance services in South Africa.
“Having proper medical cover in place is essential, and it’s well worthwhile educating yourself on the schemes available, and heeding advice to ensure you have the right cover for your needs.”
The National Reference Price List for Ambulance Services (NRPLAS), released in 2009 and updated annually through the Road Accident Fund Medical Tariff, serves as a baseline against which medical schemes can determine benefit levels and providers can determine fees charged to patients.
These prices are categorised by the level of care required – basic, intermediate, or advanced life support – and the time or distance the patient is transported.
Basic life support is the lowest level of emergency. This callout involves the patient being assessed, treated, monitored, and transported under the care of a registered Basic Ambulance Assistant. Basic life support doesn’t involve invasive treatments, like the skin being pierced by a needle or scalpel.
Intermediate life support falls within the scope of practice of a registered Ambulance Emergency Assistant (AEA) and may include initiating or maintaining IV therapy and nebulisation.
Advanced life support is administered by a registered paramedic. JustMoney uses the example of a lung collapse, which would require emergency personnel to puncture the patient’s chest so that it can be re-inflated, as advanced life support.
Ambulance transport in metropolitan areas is charged up to 45 minutes and an hour, with an additional charge for every 15 minutes after. Long-distance transport, measured at 100 kilometres or more, is charged at a per-kilometre rate.
These rates have more than doubled – across all categories – since the NRPLAS was released in 2009.
If the patient is insured, the emergency medical service providers invoice the medical scheme for the ambulance transport and support. Medical aid providers are generally partnered with specific private emergency companies and if patient calls in a different ambulance service, the scheme only pays between 40% and 60% of the account. Uninsured patients will be invoiced directly.
Under the National Patients’ Rights Charter, all South Africans have a right to medical assistance, according to Shalen Ramduth, director of operations at Netcare 911.
“If an uninsured patient is not experiencing a life-threatening emergency, they have access to the provincial emergency services which will render stabilisation and transportation to a hospital if required, at no cost to the patient,” says Ramduth.
Patients may also refuse medical care for fear of being burdened with costs, but the responsibility to ensure the person is not a life-threatening situation still rests with the attending medic. If medics fail to assist in such a situation, it can be considered as neglect and reported Health Professionals Council of South Africa (HPCSA).
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