As a way to protect consumers from facing the high cost of air ambulance transport, Rep. Tina Pickett (Bradford/Sullivan/Susquehanna) has secured House approval of a measure to encourage Congress to allow state regulation of the industry.
House Resolution 337, which passed the House unanimously on Wednesday, urges the U.S. Congress to enact legislation that would allow states to regulate air ambulance billing and pricing practices. It is presently prohibited under federal law. S. 471, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, is currently in the U.S. Senate for review.
“The air ambulance industry is vital in helping to save lives, especially in rural areas such as ours where time in medical emergencies is precious and the skills and knowledge of those who work in air ambulances are critical to a patient’s care,” said Pickett, chairman of the House Insurance Committee.
She noted that constituents who have received bills upward of $30,000 and more have reached out to her. In some cases, private insurance denied the claim or only paid a partial claim, leaving consumers obligated to pay the remaining balance.
“However, since federal law prohibits states from having any type of oversight over the industry, namely with billing, rates and routes, many patients who have used air ambulances have faced bills in the thousands of dollars,” she added. “I understand the high cost of operating air ambulances, but we must find the right balance between a healthy industry and consumer protection. That’s why state regulation is desperately needed.”
If the federal law passes, states would be able to regulate air carriers providing air ambulance service, rein in exorbitant air ambulance costs and provide families with financial certainty while they are facing life-threatening situations.
Currently, more than 1,000 air ambulances operate in the United States, which is twice as many as in 2000. According to Consumer Reports in April 2017, the average charge from one air ambulance company rose from approximately $13,000 in 2007 to $50,200 in 2016, with the real cost estimated at $7,000 to $10,000.
In a related effort, this week Pickett also secured House passage of an amendment she authored to help the industry by increasing Medicaid reimbursement rates.
Her amendment – inserted to House Bill 699 regarding Medicaid reimbursement rates for land ambulances – would raise the Medicaid reimbursement level for air ambulance to $3,325.53 per flight, about 66 percent of the Medicare Rural Rotary Wing payment level, and $22.45 per mile.
To view Pickett’s comments regarding the amendment on the House floor, click here:https://youtu.be/jkeH23TigIY
“The current rate of $200 per flight is woefully low, and irresponsible, as this forces the costs on to private citizens for balance billing, as many constituents get bills for over $30,000,” she said. “This amendment is a start in getting government to be responsible paying its fair share and not shift costs and large air ambulance bills to our constituents.”
That bill still needs a final vote in the House before going to the state Senate, with the resolution to be sent to every member of Congress from Pennsylvania.