Queenstowner fumes at $800 ambo bill

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A BRAZILIAN Queenstowner – given no warning of the cost – is stunned at a $769 bill for a brief ambulance ride.

Sous chef Judson Guimaraes Toledo received the bill for an 8.4km ambulance ride in February.

Toledo, 38, was pinged by St John Wakatipu after being transferred from Queenstown Medical Centre downtown to Frankton’s Lakes District Hospital.

“It’s ok if they charge me a little more because I’m not a New Zealand resident,” Toledo says.

“But not $800. For $800 I could get a helicopter to Invercargill.”

Toledo, who’s lived in Queenstown for three-and-a-half-years on a migrant work visa, went to see a doctor at the centre after feeling a burning sensation in his stomach.

“The doctor gave me some medication and asked if I felt better,” he says.

“I said ‘no’, so he said ‘ok, I’ll send you to Frankton to the hospital’.

“Then he called the ambulance – he didn’t tell me how much it was going to cost.”

St John confirmed $769 is the cost for an ambulance call-out for a non-resident whose country does not have a reciprocal medical treatment agreement with New Zealand. For those who do, the cost is $88.

Toledo was not charged for treatment at the hospital, due to his length of stay in New Zealand. He was discharged five hours later after a full check-up and says his stomach problem is not serious.

Queenstown Medical Centre chief operating officer Shane Zeederberg says he can’t comment on individual cases, or confirm whether a doctor would inform a patient of the ambulance charge.

But he admitted he wasn’t aware himself St John charged in such instances.

“I can’t say it’s something that’s come up before in my three-and-a-half years here,” Zeederberg says.

“But the key thing is transfers are based on clinical need. We don’t just pack them off to hospital.” 

Zeederberg says patients are welcome to submit a complaint.

“If there has been a breakdown in communication, that’s something that can be looked at,” he says.
 
Toledo is paying his bill at $15 per week, which should take about a year.

“I’m going to pay but I don’t know why they charged me so much.”