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Soaring air ambulance costs under scrutiny from Congress

air ambulance

Air ambulance rides can be lifesaving. However, these trips often come with sky-high bills that consumers are expected to pay.

Congress is considering legislation that attempts to provide some relief.

Kaiser Health News reports that if an air ambulance service is not part of a patient’s insurance network, the operator can charge the patient the balance of the amount their insurer won’t cover. That can be thousands of dollars.

An average price for helicopter transport with Take Air Methods, the nation’s largest air ambulance company, was $49,800 in 2016, according to a Government Accountability Office report. That’s up from $13,000 in 2007.

Air ambulances have largely been unregulated, with no cap on pricing.

Legislation before Congress would establish an aviation consumer advocate with the Department of Transportation. The advocate would be responsible for handling patient complaints and empowered to pursue enforcement or “corrective action” against unfair or deceptive practices, including air ambulance operators.

This House-Senate bill would also set up a council of industry representatives who would write and re-evaluate consumer protections, including balance-billing practices. The legislation also establishes a hotline for patients, similar to the one that exists for commercial airline passengers.

Does it go far enough?

Erin Fuse Brown, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University, isn’t sure. Fuse Brown, who specializes in health care billing told Kaiser Health News: “It’s unclear at this point whether the committee would come up with protections that would substantively provide consumer protections.”

Do you know someone who was left on the hook with a high air ambulance bill? Voices for Affordable Health wants to hear their story.