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Marci’s Medicare Answers: May 2014

Dear Marci,

Does Medicare pay for ambulance services?

—Janette

Dear Janette,

Yes, Medicare can cover emergency and non-emergency ambulance services if the following requirements are met:

-Ambulance transport is medically necessary, meaning that an ambulance is the only safe way to transport you, and the reason for your trip is to receive a service or return from a Medicare-covered service that you need;

-You are transported to and from certain locations; and

-The ambulance carrier or supplier meets Medicare ambulance requirements.

Keep in mind that Medicare defines an emergency as a situation in which your health is in serious danger and every second counts to prevent your health from getting worse.

Medicare may cover non-emergency ambulance services under limited circumstances. However, keep in mind that lack of access to alternative transportation alone will not justify Medicare coverage. Specifically, Medicare may cover non-emergency ambulance services if you are confined to your bed, meaning you are unable to get up from a bed without help, unable to walk or unable to sit in a chair. Medicare may also cover non-emergency ambulance services if you need vital medical services during your trip that are only available in an ambulance. An example of this includes the monitoring of vital functions.

If you have Original Medicare, the traditional Medicare program administered directly through the federal government, Medicare will pay 80 percent of its approved amount for Medicare-covered ambulance services. You or your supplemental insurance will be responsible for the remaining 20 percent coinsurance. If you have a Medicare Advantage plan, also known as a Medicare private health plan, contact your plan directly to learn how your plan covers ambulance services.

Lastly, know that Medicare will never pay for ambulette services. An ambulette is a wheelchair-accessible van that provides non-emergency transportation for people with disabilities.

—Marci

Dear Marci,

My doctor told me that he is now an opt-out doctor. What is an opt-out doctor?

—Shelley

Dear Shelley,

An opt-out doctor is a doctor who has formally opted out of the Medicare program. Opt-out doctors do not submit any medical claims to Medicare and are not subject to the Medicare law that limits the amount they may charge patients with Medicare. In other words, opt-out doctors can charge whatever they want for health care services they provide to patients with Medicare.

If you have Original Medicare, the traditional Medicare program administered directly through the federal government, it’s generally best to avoid seeing opt-out doctors. When you see a doctor who has opted out of Medicare, you are responsible for the entire cost of your care. Medicare will not pay for care you receive from an opt-out doctor. While there may be a few exceptions in the case of emergencies, you are generally responsible for the full cost of the care you receive from opt-out doctors. If you have Original Medicare, you should try to see a doctor who accepts Medicare and takes assignment to get your care at the lowest cost. Health care providers who take assignment accept the Medicare-approved amount for health care services as full payment.

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