Washington, D.C. (July 26, 2017) – The S.O.A.R. campaign and its partners applaud the introduction this week of H.R. 3378, the Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act, by U.S. Representatives Jackie Walorski (R, IN-02), Suzan DelBene (D, WA-01), Bill Johnson (R, OH-06), Raul Ruiz (D, CA-36), and Pete Sessions (R, TX-32). The proposal is an important step in ensuring that communities across America, particularly in rural parts of the country, have access to life-saving emergency air medical services.
“S.O.A.R. stands in full support of this important bipartisan legislation, which will help bridge the gap between rural and urban communities’ access to emergency care when it’s needed the most,” said S.O.A.R. spokeswoman Carter Johnson. “Today, emergency air medical services are being threatened by low government reimbursement rates, including federal Medicare reimbursement rate that has not been updated in 20 years, resulting in a major reimbursement shortfall. This legislation brings us one step closer to fixing that, and ensuring that all Americans, no matter where they live, can rest assured that they have access to emergency air medical transport if they ever need it.”
Medicare and Medicaid dramatically under-reimburse for air medical services, and the majority (70 percent) of patients who are transported have Medicare or Medicaid, or are uninsured altogether. A recent study shows that Medicare reimburses only 59 percent of the true cost of service. In some states, Medicaid reimburses less than half of the cost of fuel alone for a transport. Repeated extreme under-reimbursement is making it more difficult for air medical bases to remain open, and where they remain, costs are unduly shifted to the 30 percent of patients who have private insurance.
Today, one in four Americans—85 million people—can only get to a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center within an hour if they are flown by helicopter. At the same time, hospitals—especially in rural areas—are closing at alarming rates, with 78 rural hospitals closing their doors since 2010. As a result, access to emergency air medical transport has never been more critical.
Specifically, the Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act of 2017 will:
- Require air medical operators to collect and submit cost data to HHS so that it can develop an accurate payment system based on actual costs of providing care;
- Establish a mandatory air medical quality reporting program;
- Implement a value-based purchasing program to promote high-quality air medical services; and
- Provide reasonable immediate, but temporary, relief to providers while the data collection and analysis is occurring; and
- Designed to be budget neutral.