RURAL Victorians are being slugged with the highest ambulance fees in the country.Set by the Department of Health, the call out fee for a non-ambulance Victoria member is almost triple that of New South Wales ambulance costs, and well above that of other neighbouring states.For country residents the call out fee is $920.77, slightly cheaper than their metropolitan counterparts who are charged $924.20.However rural Victorians are also charged $1.09 per kilometre they travel and $11.15 for every minute they are in an ambulance. Nowhere else in the country are people forced to pay per minute they travel in an ambulance.The additional costs quickly add up for those who need to travel to Melbourne for specialist treatment.For example, to travel from Ballarat to The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne would take about 1.5 hours over a 116 kilometre distance.The final price tag would be about $2039.40.However for someone to travel from Frankston to The Alfred Hospital, a 41-kilometre journey taking about one hour, the cost would only include the $924.20 call out fee.A Trentham resident, who asked not to be named, said she was shocked when she received a $3500 bill after requiring an ambulance in July.She was transported from Trentham Falls to the Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital and said she thought all non-members were charged the same for the service. "I just think it's outrageous, I really don't get how that can be justified in any way," she said."I honestly thought when I saw the bill that it was across the board, that I needed to just cop it and deal with it. It's not fair."South Australian resident Michael Woolnough also felt the sting of the high ambulance fees after he required an ambulance in 2009.In SA he would have only been charged $778.40, but since he was visiting Ballarat he was slugged a whopping $2134. "Why are country Victorians and visitors to country Victoria being discriminated against with regards to fees charged for Ambulance Services in Victoria rural areas when compared with Melbourne?" he asked.Department of Health senior media advisor Bram Alexander would not say why rural Victorians were charged so much more than Melbourne residents."Ambulance fees have been developed on the basis of cost recovery for the services provided," he said. “Victoria operates the largest membership scheme in Australia, with more than one million Victorians currently covered.” Member for Western Victoria Jaala Pulford encouraged all Victorians to become ambulance members.“Members do not have to pay out of pocket costs,” she explained.However opposition spokesman for health David Davis said it was likely the high fees were due to AV’s projected $20 million deficit for 2010/11. “Ambulance Victoria has been mismanaged by the Brumby government with response times blowing out and putting lives at risk and the government determined to scoop back money from every source,” he said.“A Baillieu government would manage AV with community safety in mind, ensuring financial stability but ensuring also that the community was not priced out of ambulance access.”
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