KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The high cost of a non-emergency ambulance ride has a young Gatlinburg woman upset.
In East Tennessee, Rural/Metro is one of the largest emergency providers. It's also one of the nation's leaders in private ambulance service.
But a non-emergency trip that went a little over a tenth of a mile, from one parking lot to another, has Carrie Hawkins asking why it was so expensive.
Carrie is an office manager for a doctor in Gatlinburg. Needing some minor surgery last December, she went to Tennova Turkey Creek Medical Center. She had same day surgery at the physicians plaza next to the hospital.
Following the surgery, a doctor noted Carrie's elevated blood pressure and recommended that she be taken to the medical center's emergency room.
"They told me it was hospital policy that anytime you had to be transported it had to be done by ambulance," Carrie said.
She was taken by a Rural/Metro ambulance. Paperwork indicates it was a non-emergency trip.
"The total bill is $679.10," Carrie said. If you subtract $7.76 for gas, the transport cost is $671.
Carrie called Rural/Metro about the bill and says she was told the transport level one charge is the base for Knox County.
She has Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance, but the bill exceeds what her policy covers. "They allow up to $450. They pay 80 percent of that, which turns out to be $360. And I paid the other 20 percent which would be $90," Carrie explained.
She sent the $90, but says she isn't paying any more. "It is way too expensive, and it wasn't even in the public street. It was in the parking lot," she said.
To find out how far Carrie traveled, 6 On Your Side used a distance measuring wheel. We had it tested for accuracy before our run.
We left the surgery center building, went along a parking lot, around a corner of the hospital building and down another parking lot.
Within two minutes, we came to the end of the trip Carrie made. The measurement read 816 feet. That's 272 yards, about the length of nearly three football fields.
In Chattanooga, Lifeguard Ambulance Service tells 6 On Your Side its charge for a level one, advanced life support trip is between $500 to $550.
In Nashville and Memphis, First Call Ambulance said its charge for the same service is $535.
Dr. Vickie Moore is the physician at the office where Carrie Hawkins works. She's also Carrie's mother.
"I'm upset," Dr. Moore said. "I thought it was totally unreasonable, exorbitant and totally unnecessary. Then she gets a bill for $679, more than the insurance would allow. That's part of the problem with our healthcare. When you have another 30 to 40 percent higher, that's ridiculous."
Rural/Metro says the advanced life support transport requires a high degree of care since in this case a cardio monitor, oxygen and an IV were part of the trip, as the physician ordered.
The company also says when a patient is billed for an advanced life support level one transport, there is one flat all inclusive charge. The customer does not receive an itemized statement for using equipment, procedures or supplies during the transport.
Rural/Metro says other private ambulance companies may add those services to their bills.
The company also reiterates that in Carrie Hawkins' case, it responded with the "appropriate level of medical equipment and personnel" as requested by the physician who called for the ambulance.
However, Carrie is adamant in her stance. "They can do whatever they want, send me to collections, but I'm not paying it."
If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974 or email email@example.com.