I’d like to set the record straight on a recent article about air ambulance balance billing (Wicker, McCaskill seek answers on air ambulances – Sept. 11, 2018).
Balance billing (air ambulance or otherwise) occurs when an insurer passes the costs of healthcare on to the insured beneficiary. Everyone agrees that patients should not be stuck in the middle between an air ambulance company that saved their life and their insurance company. Rather, private insurance ought to cover emergency air ambulance transport, which is only deployed by a first responder or medical professional. When a medical helicopter is called, it goes, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay. If an insurance provider won’t cover an air ambulance transport that was considered medically necessary and requested by an independent medical professional, what’s insurance for?
States have the full authority to regulate the health care provided by medical helicopters. Senator McCaskill has proposed carving air ambulances out of the Airline Deregulation Act to allow states to expand regulation of the air ambulance industry. While I’m sure well-intentioned, this would in fact create borders in the sky, reducing access to these services, and would do nothing to lower costs for consumers.
Instead, private insurers should do right by air medical patients and cover air ambulance transports. Recently, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield Insurance in Missouri reached contract agreements with two air medical providers, Air Methods and Air Evac, to bring these services in network. Others should follow suit.
The air medical industry agrees strengthening Department of Transportation oversight and enforcement of air ambulance complaints is a good step but if policymakers really want to help consumers with transparency, they should pass the Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act. This legislation would modernize the outdated Medicare Air Ambulance Fee Schedule and require air medical providers to submit their cost data so Medicare can update its payment system to reflect the actual cost of providing care. As a result, financial pressures that drive balance billing would get relief and air medical providers will be able to ensure patients can continue to access this life-saving service.
SOAR Campaign, Washington, DC