While well-intentioned, Sen. McCaskill’s proposed legislation would have a devastating effect on millions of Americans’ access to emergency air ambulance services. Air medical services operate in a regional capacity, covering multiple municipalities, and routinely crossing state lines to reduce out-of-hospital time and deliver patients safely and swiftly to definitive care. This improves patient outcomes and reduces downstream healthcare costs for time-sensitive illnesses and injuries. Instead of allowing air medical providers to transport patients to the nearest, most-appropriate medical facility, as is the case today, this change would cause air medical providers to only look to in-state facilities, which could be farther away and less appropriate for the patient. In short, this seemingly small change could have a devastating effect on patients facing life-threatening emergencies, their access to care, and ultimately, their health outcomes. And it does nothing to address the issue of patient bills.
There is a better solution. First, insurers need to do right by their patients and cover these life-saving services. They need to agree to a fair and reasonable reimbursement rate and drop demands for contract language that gives them power to overrule medical decisions by doctors and first-responders who deploy air ambulances. Second, because 70 percent of air medical patients have Medicare, Medicaid or no insurance at all and Medicare reimbursement rates haven’t been updated in nearly 20 years, Congress must enact H.R. 3378/S. 2121. This legislation would require providers to collect and submit cost data and bring Medicare reimbursements closer to the true cost of providing care. These two actions will take patients out of the middle and ensure access to these critical, life-saving health care services.