Study: Air ambulance charges rising, much more than what Medicare pays

July 8, 2019

Air ambulances charged an average four to 10 times what Medicare paid for their services in 2016, according to a Health Affairs study, reports the American Hospital Association. The national median charge was $39,000 in 2016, about 60% more than in 2012, the study found.

"Our results suggest that without congressional or regulatory effort to address air ambulance billing practices, patients — who in emergencies have few options and little bargaining power — are at risk of exposure to excessive charges," the authors said. The Lower Health Care Costs Act, approved recently by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, would pay air ambulance providers a benchmark rate and limit patients' cost sharing for out-of-network services to the in-network requirement.

The AHA said it supports addressing air ambulances in a federal solution to end surprise medical bills but has serious concerns with using a benchmark rate to resolve payments between health plans and out-of-network providers.