5 On Your Side

Wake Forest family questions $5,400 ambulance bill from Duke

Posted April 11

— When you have health insurance and need care, you get it.

Usually, you do it without thinking about the cost. But a Wake Forest family contacted 5 On Your Side about a post-care bill they feel is outrageous.

The issue – a 29-mile ambulance transport for their young son, 7-year-old Cooper Mohler. The bill ended up being more than $5,000.

Last September, Cooper was diagnosed with pneumonia, and because he was on oxygen, doctors wanted Cooper transported from Duke Raleigh Hospital to be treated in the pediatric unit at Duke Children's Hospital in Durham.

The Mohlers say hospital staff called in their critical care transport ambulance without discussing other options with them.

"It was the fanciest ambulance that I'd ever seen," Cameron Mohler, Cooper's mom, said.

"It was so cool," remembers Cooper, who spent the day in the hospital and completely recovered.

While the ride was cool to Cooper, it ended up costing his parents $5,422.25.

"No regrets taking him to Duke. I guess the huge question is why $5,500 to go 30 miles?" Doug Mohler, Cooper's father, said.

The ambulance ride, which ended up being about $187 per mile, cost roughly 43 percent of Cooper's entire hospital bill.

"They couldn't really explain it to me," Cameron Mohler said of the hospital's response to the charges.

After repeated requests for itemized bills and still no clear answers, the Mohlers contacted 5 On Your Side.

Surprise ambulance charges are an issue across the country.

Consumer groups say the bills are a growing problem, one that is difficult for patients to avoid.

Hundreds of people have submitted stories to Consumers Union, many who end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars out of pocket for ambulance trips.

For the Mohlers, insurance covered $2,960.55 of their trip. They owe the remaining $2,461.70.

5 On Your SIde reached out to Duke Health to learn more. Spokeswoman Sarah Avery said three levels of support determine ambulance charges, but she wouldn't provide WRAL News the cost differences.

The three levels of ambulance care are basic life support, advanced life support and special care transport.

Avery said doctors believed Cooper needed advanced life support the day he was transported.

The Mohelers question that and say they waited more than three hours for the ambulance to pick Cooper up.

Avery also did not respond to 5 On Your Side's requests for information about the options available to the Mohlers or their itemized bill. Hospital officials also declined to address the Mohlers' belief that they were taken advantage of at one of their most vulnerable times.

Looking back, the Mohlers say they wish they'd have taken Cooper to a pediatric hospital to begin with.

Now, they want others to be aware and to ask questions to keep from being hit with an unexpected bill for an ambulance ride.

Consumers do have the right to appeal how much of a claim is paid by an insurance company.


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  • Stacie Hagwood Apr 14, 7:25 a.m.
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    This is a prime example of the egregious problems in our entire health care "system." There is nothing else that I can think of that expects you to "purchase" something without knowing the price and your options first. It is a sad state when we have to ask for a breakdown of costs, in times when we are sick and vulnerable, before we make a decision.

  • Larry Fellers Apr 12, 3:23 p.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Thanks for clearing that up! Some people can't comprehend what they read.

  • Tom Marthers Apr 12, 11:57 a.m.
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    Bottom line, it is ALL about GREEDY, MONEY, HUNGRY people in the Medical Care field.

  • Russ Bullock Apr 12, 10:23 a.m.
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    This entire episode illustrates one of the hazards of mixing a profit motive into health care. While this system may have indeed provided advanced methods of life support that we would not have otherwise, it is becoming painfully obvious that our society cannot afford to pay for these new methods whenever they can be applied. This is essentially where the "death panel" issue comes up. Who decides when to apply these life saving methods? Someone has to or we are going to bankrupt the nation while certain segments of the medical industry gets ridiculously rich.

  • Lilbevr Simmons Apr 12, 8:02 a.m.
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    She waited 3hrs for ambulance? Why not just get in car and drive to hospital? Ambulance rides are the biggest rip off next to the $300 aspirin

  • Nancy Oberman Apr 12, 7:12 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

  • Andrew Stephenson Apr 12, 7:09 a.m.
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    This right here is why they are confused. Yes, the average ambulance bill, including pickup from home, not cross-hospital transfers, is in the $800 range. That's what I assume they expected. To suddenly get a bill that's 6x as much with no explanation, I'd be wondering what that other $4500 went to as well.

  • Rod Runner Apr 12, 12:23 a.m.
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    No one said the ambulance cost $187 per mile, that is just the reporter taking the amount and dividing to get the cost per mile.

    The family is looking for an ITEMIZED bill as to why it cost this much, that has not been provided to them, that is why the contacted 5 On Your Side.

    Ambulance rides for emergencies are usually about $700. So it is reasonable for this to be questioned. Especially since the boy was already stable and being moved from one hospital to another. It's not like they went to his house and EMS had to stabilize him for transport.

  • Steve Morgan Apr 12, 12:00 a.m.
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    View quoted thread

    Thank you finally someone who agrees

  • Kylie Marie Summerling Apr 11, 11:42 p.m.
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    WOw, so Wake Med wanted to make sure that your son didn't die and you object to the cost? It means that the didn't want to take a chance of him dying. Stop being ridiculous.