Health insurers eat higher medical costs

https://www.axios.com/newsletters/axios-vitals-b6a8b813-d93a-43d6-9080-bc9ee9606440.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosvitals&stream=top

Image result for 2. Health insurers eat higher medical costs

Almost all of the major health insurance companies are spending more on medical care this year than they have in the past, Axios’ Bob Herman reports.

The big picture: Rising prices and more services for some sicker patients are among the many reasons why this is happening. That uptick in spending has freaked out Wall Street, even though insurers are still quite profitable.

Driving the news: Almost all of the eight major publicly traded insurers have shown their medical loss ratio — the percentage of premium revenues they’re spending on medical claims — is rising this year.

  • UnitedHealth Group, the largest insurer in the country, said its loss ratio was 82.4% in the third quarter this year compared with 81% in the same period a year ago.
  • But these companies are handling billions of premium dollars, so any increase in medical claims equates to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional spending, which they don’t want.

Between the lines: Medical loss ratios are often higher for health plans that cover more older adults, the disabled and the poor, because those groups typically need more care or are in the hospital more frequently.

But costs have been climbing in some commercial markets, too.

  • Anthem executives admitted on their earnings call that the company is dumping some employers with workers who had medical needs and costs that were too high.
  • CVS Health, which now owns Aetna, previously said some middle-market clients had employees that it thought were getting too many services and drugs.
  • CVS “intensified our medical management in those geographies,” an executive said on the earnings call.

The bottom line: Health insurance companies closely track their medical loss ratios and aim to hit those targets most often by charging higher premiums, denying care, forcing people to use lower-priced providers or declining to cover people they deem to be too expensive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Health care is getting more and more expensive, and low-wage workers are bearing more of the cost

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/30/20891305/health-care-employer-sponsored-premiums-cost-voxcare

Is the rapidly rising cost of employer-sponsored health insurance sustainable?

Half of all Americans get their health insurance through work. Trouble is, doing so is becoming less and less affordable — especially for already low-wage workers.

In 2019, the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey — an annual account of roughly 2,000 small and large businesses’ employer-sponsored insurance — found the average annual premium to cover a family through work was a whopping $20,576, and $7,188 for an individual. Employers cover most of that, but families still contributed an average of $6,015 in premiums, and single Americans covered about $1,242 of the annual cost.

The kicker? Over the past 10 years, the cost of the portion of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums that falls on American families has increased by 71 percent. Overall, premiums have gone up 54 percent since 2009. That’s faster than the rate of inflation and faster than the average wage growth.

Nearly half of all Americans get their health insurance through work, a system that covers roughly 153 million people. And for lower-wage workers it’s a system that is increasingly unaffordable.

Workers at companies with a significant number of low-wage employees (which the Kaiser Family survey quantifies as a company in which at least 35 percent of employees are making an annual salary of $25,000 or less) have lower premiums than those who work at companies with fewer low-wage workers, probably because their plans cover less. But at the same time, workers at firms with a significant number of low-wage employees are faced with high-deductible plans, and also pay a larger share of the premium cost than workers at companies with fewer lower-wage employees.

According to the survey, workers at lower-wage companies pay an average of $7,000 a year family plan — $1,000 more than employees at companies with higher salaried workers.

“When workers making $25,000 a year have to shell out $7,000 a year just for their share of family premiums,” Drew Altman, the president of Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a statement, that’s where cost becomes prohibitive. Such employees are putting almost 30 percent of their salaries toward premiums.

The takeaway is clear. Health care is getting more and more expensive, and families and employers are having to bear more of the cost, which research has shown not only has an effect on how much workers are actually getting paid, but how many workers are hired.

As Sarah Kliff reported for Vox, there are a lot of studies spanning decades that show how a rapid rise in health insurance premiums has unfavorable outcomes for workers. This is in large part because employers think of compensation in totality; they lump together an employee’s salary, as well as their benefits as one total cost. So if covering a worker’s health insurance gets more and more expensive, employers see less room to give the worker a raise.

For example, a 2006 study from Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, both with the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that an overall 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums reduced wages by 2.3 percent and actually reduced the probability of becoming employed by 1.2 percent.

Results such as these, and the high premiums low-wage workers must pay, led the Kaiser survey’s authors to explicitly question the tenability of employer-sponsored insurance: “the national debate about expanding Medicare or creating public program options provides an opportunity to step back and evaluate how well employer­-based coverage is doing in achieving national goals relating to costs and affordability,” the report reads.

The United States is unique in its reliance on employers to provide health insurance. And, as Democratic candidates for president continue to go in circles debating health care, employer-sponsored insurance is often the biggest sticking point.

Several candidates, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who popularized a plan for Medicare-for-all, a single government-run program, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who supports Sanders’s plan, have called for getting rid of the employer-based system, and private insurance, all together.

But their critics always bring up the same talking point: that the people who like their health insurance plans through work, should be able to keep it. The Kaiser survey raises questions as to how affordable those plans really are, and, as Democrats debate ideas like Medicare-for-all, how sustainable the current trajectory is.

 

 

 

Time To Talk About Healthcare Total Cost Of Ownership

https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2019/09/29/time-to-healthcare-total-cost-ownership/#31eefe931a43

On the Money Insurance Enrollment Finding Help

The debate over healthcare and how it should proceed has apparently come down to either keeping what we’ve got, going back to what we had, or Medicare for All. At least, that’s how things are being framed for a coming presidential election. At stake is the cost and delivery of 17.9% of the country’s entire gross domestic product—$3.5 trillion in 2017 and heading north from there.

There have been previous attempts, of course, to change healthcare, whether the addition of Medicare and Medicaid under Lyndon Johnson, Bill and Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful attempt to reshape the healthcare system, the addition of prescription drug coverage to Medicare signed by George W. Bush, or the Affordable Care Act under Barack Obama.

As a country, we periodically seek a better approach to healthcare—this way, that way, but not straying far from where we were. Understandable, to a (small, these days) degree. There is no guarantee that a quick change won’t cause more problems than it solves. Some people like their coverage, it’s true. But a great many do not.

Importantly, the day is coming (if it’s not right here) that most people can’t afford reasonable care. Average annual premiums for employer-sponsored healthcare for a family have reached $20,576, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Of that, $6,015 are paid by the employee and $14,561 by the employer.

The problem of cost is immense, especially when overall healthcare in the U.S. ranks as mediocre at best (which doesn’t mean good care isn’t available, but more likely is an indication of how relatively few people obtain it).

But many who have a vested interest in the system as it exists, whether for political or financial gain, loudly exclaim that any sort of solution that involves government as an insurer—like Medicare, which many participants prize given much lower rates than typical market-based programs—becomes untenable. “Can you afford how much taxes will go up?” they say.

Some voices have pushed back and we need more, because the question is a loaded one. Government-sponsored insurance would reduce the need for and expense of private insurance.

At issue is an analytic approach often used in business: the total cost of ownership. When taking up a new technology or operational strategy, a smart company analyzes the full costs. Not just the obvious price tag, but all that accompanying costs. It’s the corporate equivalent of an informed car buyer, who, beyond sticker price, is interested in the likely costs of fuel and maintenance, how well the vehicle maintains price in the used or trade-in markets, reliability, and other factors that represent accompanying expenses.

Taxes under a Medicare for All approach would go up. But, at the same time, commercial premiums come down (even if, as with Medicare, many people buy supplemental insurance to expand coverage). There may lower out-of-pocket costs, as is true in many countries with some sort of national coverage.

There is also an argument for resulting higher worker pay. Companies no longer be paying that $14,561 could shift that savings, or at least some, into additional wages or salary. Not increasing pay would effectively be a tax cut, as benefits are part of compensation.

The thought behind healthcare reform like Medicare for All is that it should be possible for the U.S. to do better. To gain improved coverage across the board at lower per-capita prices, as the rest of the developed world has managed to do for decades. People with better care can live better lives, which—and I take this as an article of faith—eventually comes back to communities and the country.

Consideration of changes requires a full understanding of the costs and financial gains throughout the system. Taxes go up, premiums go down, maybe pay increases (should increase), and a sudden illness doesn’t cause automatic financial stress for an individual or a family. Whenever someone makes sweeping claims like “taxes will go up” without context, others should step up and note that it’s like complaining about investing in mass transit without acknowledging that using an automobile to make the same commute will be much more expensive and that one may mean you don’t need the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Americans need more convincing on Medicare for All, poll says

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/americans-need-more-convincing-on-medicare-for-all-poll-says?omnicid=CFC1688174&mid=henrykotula@yahoo.com

Americans need to know more before they can make up their minds about proposed overhauls to the nation’s health care system, according to a survey released Thursday.

When asked if they wanted to wipe out private health insurance for a so-called Medicare for All public insurance program, 40 percent of U.S. adults between the ages of 19 to 64 said they did not know enough to offer an opinion.

A few Democratic presidential candidates have put forward their proposed health care plans, including Medicare for All. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. have advocated for Medicare for All models that replace private insurance with a national health insurance plan. And Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., released a health care proposal that covered 330 million Americans under one government health care plan. According to the candidates, these plans would make health care affordable for more Americans. It could help reduce the number of uninsured Americans, which currently amounted to 27.5 million people nationwide in 2018, according to the Census Bureau, marking a rise of 1.9 million people over the previous year.

According to a July 22 poll from the PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist, 70 percent of U.S. adults said they supported Medicare for All proposals as long as they maintain an option to keep private health insurance. A system like this has been proposed by Pete Buttigieg. By comparison, when asked in a separate question, only 41 percent of survey respondents said they wanted to scrap private health insurance for a government-run plan.

In this latest poll from the Commonwealth Fund, another 32 percent of Americans said they opposed the idea, while 27 percent of Americans favored such a plan, according to the survey results published by the Commonwealth Fund, which researches health policy. The survey polled 4,914 U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 from March 19 to June 9.

“People are confused about what this might mean for them, and what it might mean for the health system and what it might mean in terms of trade-offs,” said Sara Collins, vice president of Health Care Coverage and Access at the Commonwealth Fund, during a call with reporters Wednesday.

Americans are largely satisfied with their health insurance, but lacked confidence that their health care coverage could protect them financially if they fell seriously ill and required medical care.

“These satisfaction rates reflect the fact that most people don’t use their insurance a ton,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor and co-founder of the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University. “It’s sporadic interactions.”

Eighty-five percent of working-age Americans said they were satisfied with their health insurance. That included private health insurance, Medicaid, and coverage purchased on the individual marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act. Another 14 percent said they were dissatisfied with their current health insurance.

In contrast, 61 percent of U.S. adults age 16 to 64 said they were confident that they would be able to afford the cost of care if they became seriously ill, while 38 percent of Americans said they were not confident.

These survey results come as Democratic presidential candidates promote their health care plans going into the 2020 election. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration have promised to replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, with “something better,” although it is unclear what that would be. To date, they have eliminated some policies put into place under Obamacare, including dismantling the individual mandate.

Health care will be one of the most important issues among voters going into the next presidential election. Health care costs for Americans are the highest among industrialized nations. Meanwhile, life expectancy has dropped nationwide in recent years, in part due to the rise in drug overdose deaths, many of which are tied to the opioid crisis. Among developed nations the OECD ranked for infant mortality, the U.S. was among the bottom 11, after Russia.

This survey suggests that all the campaigns have their work cut out for them if they want to ramp up public awareness of proposals on the table to fix health care, Corlette said. She said the public needs more education and discussion about possible solutions aimed at problems in the U.S. health care system.

“It strikes me as a really good opportunity for people on both sides of the debate,” Corlette said. “There’s clearly a lot of people who have just not made up their mind.”

But she said the lack of confidence in how much protection health coverage affords people tugs at the reality that “the system doesn’t work really well for people who are very sick.”

New analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation supports that notion. Annual family premiums for employer-based health insurance rose 5 percent to $20,576 on average, faster than wage growth, which increased by 3.4 percent, according to the study, published in Health Affairs. And since 2009, those premiums jumped 54 percent.

Health insurance costs and coverage only provide part of the picture of what troubles Americans, said Thomas Miller, a resident fellow with the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Policymakers need to think about more than tinkering with “incremental expansions of coverage on the margins beyond where we already are,” Miller said. “It’s important to remember that people need most of all economic growth, job security and reasons to be optimistic about managing their lives.”

 

 

 

Hospital Giant Sutter Health Faces Legal Reckoning Over Medical Pricing

Hospital Giant Sutter Health Faces Legal Reckoning Over Medical Pricing

Economists and researchers long have blamed the high cost of health care in Northern California on the giant medical systems that have gobbled up hospitals and physician practices — most notably Sutter Health, a nonprofit chain with 24 hospitals, 34 surgery centers and 5,000 physicians across the region.

Now, those arguments will have their day in court: A long-awaited class-action lawsuit against Sutter is set to open Sept. 23 in San Francisco Superior Court.

The hospital giant, with $13 billion in operating revenue in 2018, stands accused of violating California’s antitrust laws by leveraging its market power to drive out competition and overcharge patients. Health care costs in Northern California, where Sutter is dominant, are 20% to 30% higher than in Southern California, even after adjusting for cost of living, according to a 2018 study from the Nicholas C. Petris Center at the University of California-Berkeley cited in the complaint.

The case was initiated in 2014 by self-funded employers and union trusts that pay for worker health care. It since has been joined with a similar case brought last year by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The plaintiffs seek up to $900 million in damages for overpayments that they attribute to Sutter; under California’s antitrust law, the award can be tripled, leaving Sutter liable for up to $2.7 billion.

The case is being followed closely by industry leaders and academics alike.

“This case could be huge. It could be existential,” said Glenn Melnick, a health care economist at the University of Southern California. If the case is successful, he predicted, health care prices could drop significantly in Northern California. It also could have a “chilling effect” nationally for large health systems that have adopted similar negotiating tactics, he said.

The case already has proved controversial: In November 2017, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow sanctioned Sutter after finding it had intentionally destroyed 192 boxes of documents sought by plaintiffs, “knowing that the evidence was relevant to antitrust issues.” He wrote: “There is no good explanation for the specific and unusual destruction here.”

Antitrust enforcement is more commonly within the purview of the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice. “One of the reasons we have such a big problem [with consolidation] is that they’ve done very little. Enforcement has been very weak,” said Richard Scheffler, director of the Nicholas C. Petris Center. From 2010 to 2017, there were more than 800 hospital mergers, and the federal government has challenged just a handful.

“We feel very confident,” said Richard Grossman, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “Sutter has been able to elevate their prices above market to the tune of many hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Or, as Attorney General Becerra put it at a news conference unveiling his 2018 lawsuit: “This is a big ‘F’ deal.”

Sutter vigorously denies the allegations, saying its large, integrated health system offers tangible benefits for patients, including more consistent high-quality care. Sutter also disputes that its prices are higher than other major health care providers in California, saying its internal analyses tell a different story.

“This lawsuit irresponsibly targets Sutter’s integrated system of hospitals, clinics, urgent care centers and affiliated doctors serving millions of patients throughout Northern California,” spokeswoman Amy Thoma Tan wrote in an emailed statement. “While insurance companies want to sell narrow networks to employers, integrated networks like Sutter’s benefit patient care and experience, which leads to greater patient choice and reduces surprise out-of-network bills to our patients.”

There’s no dispute that for years Sutter has worked aggressively to buy up hospitals and doctor practices in communities throughout Northern California. At issue in the case is how it has used that market dominance.

According to the lawsuit, Sutter has exploited its market power by using an “all-or-none” approach to contracting with insurance companies. The tactic — known as the “Sutter Model” — involves sitting down at the negotiating table with a demand: If an insurer wants to include any one of the Sutter hospitals or clinics in its network, it must include all of them. In Sutter’s case, several of its 24 hospitals are “must-haves,” meaning it would be almost impossible for an insurer to sell an insurance plan in a given community without including those facilities in the network.

“All-or-none” contracting allows hospital systems to demand higher prices from an insurer with little choice but to acquiesce, even if it might be cheaper to exclude some of the system’s hospitals that are more expensive than a competitor’s. Those higher prices trickle down to consumers in the form of higher premiums.

The California Hospital Association contends such negotiations are crucial for hospitals struggling financially. “It can be a great benefit to small hospitals and rural hospitals that don’t have a lot of bargaining power to have a larger group that can negotiate on their behalf,” said Jackie Garman, the CHA’s legal counsel.

Sutter also is accused of preventing insurers and employers from tiering benefits, a technique used to steer patients to more cost-effective options. For example, an insurer might charge $100 out-of-pocket for a procedure at a preferred surgery center, but $200 at a more expensive facility. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that for years Sutter restricted insurers from sharing information about its prices with employers and workers, making it nearly impossible to compare prices when selecting a provider.

Altogether, the plaintiffs allege, such tactics are anti-competitive and have allowed Sutter to drive up the cost of care in Northern California.

Hospitals in California and other regions across the country have watched the success of such tactics and taken note. “All the other hospitals want to emulate [Sutter] to get those rates,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of the advocacy group Health Access.

A verdict that finds such tactics illegal would “send a signal to the market that the way to compete is not to be the next Sutter,” said Wright. “You want them to compete instead by providing better quality service at a lower price, not just by who can get bigger and thus leverage a higher price.”

Along with damages, Becerra’s complaint calls for dismantling the Sutter Model. It asks that Sutter be required to negotiate prices separately for each of its hospitals — and prohibit officials at different hospitals from sharing details of their negotiations. While leaving Sutter intact, the approach would give insurers more negotiating room, particularly in communities with competing providers.

Consolidation in the health care industry is likely here to stay: Two-thirds of hospitals across the nation are part of larger medical systems. “It’s very hard to unscramble the egg,” said Melnick.

California legislators have attempted to limit the “all or nothing” contracting terms several times, but the legislation has stalled amid opposition from the hospital industry.

Now the courts will weigh in.

 

 

 

On same day of hospital concentration study, AMA says payers are the ones with less competition

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/payer-issues/on-same-day-of-hospital-concentration-study-ama-says-payers-are-the-ones-with-less-competition.html?oly_enc_id=2893H2397267F7G

Image result for highly concentrated health insurance market

 

In 2018, 75 percent of commercial health insurance markets were highly concentrated, according to a study published by the American Medical Association.

For its study, AMA analyzed market concentration in 382 metropolitan areas across the nation. AMA estimated that 73 million Americans with commercial health plans live in highly concentrated markets and don’t have many health plans to choose from. 

“Americans in three-quarters of commercial health insurance markets have a limited number of health insurers from which to choose,” AMA President Patrice Harris, MD, said in a prepared statement. “In almost half of metropolitan areas, a single health insurer has 50 percent or more of the market, and patients are not benefiting from this degree of market power. While health insurers grow corporate profits, networks are too narrow, premiums are too high, and benefits are too watered down.”

The study was published the same day the Health Care Cost Institute published an analysis finding a growing number of metropolitan areas have highly concentrated hospital markets. HCCI found that by 2016, hospital markets in the majority (72 percent) of 112 metro areas the institute studied were highly concentrated. HCCI said this “reflects the fact that most metros became increasingly concentrated over time.”

Read the full AMA study here.

 

Politicians Tackle Surprise Bills, but Not the Biggest Source of Them: Ambulances

Image result for Politicians Tackle Surprise Bills, but Not the Biggest Source of Them: Ambulances

A legislative push in Congress and states to end unexpected medical bills has omitted the ambulance industry.

After his son was hit by a car in San Francisco and taken away by ambulance, Karl Sporer was surprised to get a bill for $800.

Mr. Sporer had health insurance, which paid for part of the ride. But the ambulance provider felt that amount wasn’t enough, and billed the Sporer family for the balance.

“I paid it quickly,” Mr. Sporer said. “They go to collections if you don’t.”

That was 15 years ago, but ambulance companies around the nation are still sending such surprise bills to customers, as Mr. Sporer knows well. These days, he oversees the emergency medical services in neighboring Alameda County. The contract his county negotiated allows a private ambulance company to send similar bills to insured patients.

In most parts of medical care, you can choose a doctor or hospital that takes your insurance. But there are some types of care where politicians have begun tackling the “surprise” bills that occur when, say, patients go to an emergency room covered by their insurance and are treated by a physician who is not.

Five states have passed laws this year to restrict surprise billing in hospitals and doctor’s offices. Congress is working on a similar package of measures, after President Trump held a news conference in May urging action on the issue.

But none of these new policies will protect patients from surprise bills like the one Mr. Sporer received. Ordinary ambulances that travel on roads have been left out of every bill.

“Ambulances seem to be the worst example of surprise billing, given how often it occurs,” said Christopher Garmon, a health economist at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “If you call 911 for an ambulance, it’s basically a coin flip whether or not that ambulance will be in or out of network.”

Mr. Garmon’s research finds that 51 percent of ground ambulance rides will result in an out-of-network bill. For emergency room visits, that figure stands at only 19 percent.

Congress has shown little appetite to include ambulances in a federal law restricting surprise billing. One proposal would bar surprise bills from air ambulances, helicopters that transport patients who are at remote sites or who have life-threatening injuries. (These types of ambulances tend to be run by private companies.)

But that interest has not extended to more traditional ambulance services — in part because many are run by local and municipal governments.

Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and a key author of a Senate surprise billing proposal, said in an email that surprise bills from air ambulances were the more pressing issue because federal law prevents any local regulation of their prices. “Unlike air ambulances, ground ambulances can be regulated by states,” said Mr. Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee. “And Congress should continue to learn more about how to best solve that problem.”

The ambulance industry has brought its case to Capitol Hill, arranging meetings between members of Congress and their local ambulance operators.

“When we talk to our members of Congress, what we really emphasize is that we’re a little different from the other providers in the surprise billing discussion,” said Shawn Baird, president-elect of the American Ambulance Association. “We have a distinct, public process. The emergency room isn’t subject to any oversight of that kind.”

Patient advocates contend that this public oversight isn’t doing enough to protect patients, who often face surprise bills and forceful collection tactics from ambulance providers.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, worked on a 2016 California law to restrict surprise billing. Initially, he thought it made sense to include ambulances in that legislation.

“It’s our experience that ambulance providers bill quicker and are more aggressive in sending bills to collection,” Mr. Wright said. “If they’re being more aggressive, you might want legislation to deal with that one first.”

But obstacles quickly began to mount. Some were about policy, like whether California would need to offset the revenue local governments would lose.

Then there were the politics. “There is the political reality that it’s hard to go after an entire industry at once,” Mr. Wright said. “It’s hard to have a bill opposed by doctors and hospitals and ambulances. We did manage to get a strong protection against doctor billing, but that was an epic, brutal, three-year fight.”

The California law that passed in 2016 did not regulate ambulance prices.

Patient groups elsewhere also say they ran into political trouble. Of the five states that passed surprise billing regulations in 2019, only Colorado’s new law takes aim at ambulance billing — not by regulating it, but by forming a committee to study the issue.

“The surprise bills laws are hard enough to get,” said Chuck Bell, program director for advocacy at Consumer Reports, who worked to pass a Florida surprise billing law in 2016. “You’re struggling with health plans, hospitals and doctors and other provider groups. At a certain point you don’t want to invite another big gorilla in the room to further widen the brawl.”

On Capitol Hill, the ambulance services have been less aggressive than other health care providers in lobbying against their inclusion in reforms. But lawmakers have largely declined to even include them in the conversation.

Consumer advocates say the lack of state-level legislation has been a barrier.

“Since there are issues related to ambulances being run by municipalities, and, at the state level, there hasn’t been a lot of model law to inform federal law, I think that’s made some members hesitant to wade into that space,” said Claire McAndrew, the director of campaigns and partnerships at the health care consumer group Families USA.

Local governments generally finance their ambulance services through a mix of user fees and taxes. If ambulances charge less to patients, they typically need more government funding.

Municipal governments often publish the prices of their ambulance services online, and they can range substantially. In Moraga and Orinda, in the Bay Area, the base rate for an ambulance ride is $2,600, plus $42 for each mile traveled. In Marion County, Fla., the most basic kind of ambulance ride costs $550, plus $11.25 per mile.

In many communities, there is no choice of ambulances.

Older patients are not charged such fees. Medicare, which also covers some people with disabilities, pays set prices for ambulance rides — a base rate of around $225 for the most typical type of care, in addition to a mileage fee — and forbids the companies to send patients additional bills.

In Bucks County, Pa., where it is $1,500 for a basic ambulance ride, in addition to $16 per mile, the emergency medical service gets 78 percent of its revenue from ambulance billing, according to Chuck Pressler, the executive director of the Central Bucks Emergency Medical Services. The rest of the budget comes from taxes raised by local cities and fund-raising drives.

“There is an expectation that we just plant money trees, that people should come in and work for free,” Mr. Pressler said of proposals to tamp down ambulance billing. “When was the last time you saw the police send out a fund-raiser? They don’t have to do that. Why do we have to raise money to come get you when you’re sick?”