Air Ambulance Companies Angry with Lamar Alexander


Air ambulance companies are reportedly upset with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and his attempts to ban surprise medical billing.

Representatives of those air ambulance companies told Nashville Public Radio that Alexander’s bill, if enacted into law, will hurt their bottom line.

As The Tennessee Star reported last month, surprise medical billing happens when a patient receives out-of-network care without his or her knowledge – either in an emergency or during a visit to an in-network facility.

Weeks later, insurance companies send bills demanding patients pay money for services they assumed insurance would cover.

Specifically, air ambulance operators reportedly told Nashville Public Radio that “limiting what they charge would hurt access to lifesaving transportation in rural areas like Tennessee, where nearly a dozen outlying hospitals have closed in recent years.”

“Nearly two-thirds of air ambulance rides are out-of-network for the patient, according to the Government Accountability Office,” according to the news agency.

“That means an insurer may cover only a fraction of the cost, leaving patients with the balance. That’s what’s often called a ‘surprise medical bill.’

Alexander spokesman William Heartsill told The Star in an email Thursday that surprise air ambulance bills are a problem that states cannot solve, because the Airline Deregulation Act prevents them from taking action.

“If patients are to be protected, Congress has a distinct responsibility to address. 70 percent of air ambulance transports were out-of-network in 2017, at an average price of $36,400, which is clearly unaffordable,” Heartsill said.

“The Senate health committee heard from dozens of groups saying that any legislation to address surprise billing should include air ambulances.”

Per HCCI, Heartsill went on to say, a typical out-of-network ground ambulance bill is $1,700, while an average out-of-network air ambulance bill is $30,000–$50,000.

“A single air ambulance bill can bankrupt a family,” Heartsill said.

As The Star reported, two Tennessee state representatives, one a Republican, another a Democrat, called out Alexander and said his proposal is dangerous.

In a joint letter, State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) and State Rep. John DeBerry, Jr. (D-Memphis) said this approach would permit the federal government to set payment rates for doctors performing out-of-network care across the country. In doing so, benchmarking opens a can of worms that would ultimately threaten health care for millions of people,” the two state representatives wrote.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Lamar Alexander” by Lamar Alexander. Background Photo “Air Ambulance” by Jason Bair. CC BY 2.0




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