In recent article published online by WBUR, NPR in Boston, AAMS was interviewed about a patient bill they received for air medical transport. First and foremost, we want to reiterate that we never want a patient to get a bill they didn’t expect or cannot afford. Patients are stuck in the middle when their insurance company refuses to pay for the cost of the air medical transport. While some insurers do right by their patients, others do not. If a patient can’t rely on their insurance to pay for healthcare in an emergency, what is insurance for? In addition, over 70% of air medical transports are for patients with Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance at all.
The reimbursement rates for Medicare haven’t been updated in over 20 years, resulting in a chronic under-reimbursement for these life-saving services. AAMS sponsored a cost study of emergency helicopter air ambulances that demonstrated a significant shortfall: more than 40% difference in the costs of providing the service and the average Medicare payment for the flight. These services are always requested by a first-responder or physician for patients in emergency medical situations.
AAMS has no data regarding the cost of non-emergency fixed wing airplane flights or their relationship to Medicare. AAMS members who provide non-emergency fixed wing services should provide patients who request those services with a cost estimate and work with those patients and their insurers to ensure they do not receive a bill they do not expect. AAMS refers any questions regarding air ambulance charges or balance bills to the Department of Transportations’ Consumer Protection Division and supports legislation to expand consumer protections in these cases. We also support federal legislation that would update the Medicare reimbursement rates so that they are based on the cost of delivering care. Combined with private insurers doing right by their customers, this will take patients out of the middle while preserving access to these critical healthcare services.