Report Private Ambulance Drivers Favor Their Own NYC Hospitals

June 27, 2001

A report in The Village Voice details the problems confronting New York City’s emergency services, focusing on the marked tendency of private ambulance drivers to bring injured, but insured, emergency victims to their own affiliated hospitals, rather than the nearest emergency treatment center.

The report indicates that there’s substantial evidence, based on a study of 300,000 emergency cases covering five months in 1999, that private ambulances are twice as likely to bring insured patients to their own hospitals. Some drivers referred to the practice of conducting a “wallet biopsy” to determine if the injured person had insurance and/or credit cards.

The net effect of such preferential treatment is to increase the costs of operating NYC’s public hospitals, as they tend to care for more indigent patients. The practice is getting worse, as private hospitals increasingly compete for paying patients.

Ambulance drivers frequently ignore regulations that require them to bring patients to the nearest treatment center, selecting those with insurance coverage for transport to private hospitals, while apparently poorer patients may be driven extra miles in order to get them to public care facilities.

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