Save Our Air Medical Resources Campaign Applauds Introduction of S. 2121, the Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act

November 14, 2017

WASHINGTON – The Save Our Air Medical Resources (S.O.A.R.) campaign and its partners applaud U.S. Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) for introducing S. 2121, the Ensuring Access to Air Ambulance Services Act of 2017. This is an important next step for Congress to preserve access to emergency air medical services, following introduction of its companion bill, H.R. 3378 in the House of Representatives by U.S. Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.), Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), and Pete Sessions (R-Tex.).

The proposal is a critical part of the effort to ensure communities across America, particularly in rural parts of the country, have access to life-saving emergency air medical services. 

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. 

“S.O.A.R. stands in full support of this important bipartisan legislation, which will help ensure that rural and urban communities alike can access emergency care,” Carter Johnson, a spokeswoman for S.O.A.R., said. “Low government reimbursement rates that have not been updated in almost two decades continue to threaten Americans’ access to emergency air medical services. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation brings us closer to fixing this reimbursement shortfall, and ensuring that all Americans – no matter where they live – will have access to emergency air medical transport if they ever need it.” 

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. 

“When a stroke happens, minutes matter – getting the right care at the right time can mean the difference between life and death,” National Stroke Association CEO Robyn Moore said. “Emergency air medical services play a critical role by transporting stroke patients every day and helping to ensure that these patients have the care they need when they need it. The National Stroke Association stands behind this bipartisan legislation to ensure that all Americans have timely access to high quality health care no matter where they live.” 

“On behalf of our nation’s 3.6 million registered nurses – including flight nurses – the American Nurses Association is proud to support this bipartisan legislation that will preserve health care access for Americans, especially those in rural communities,” Michelle Artz, the American Nurses Association Director of Government Affairs, said. “Flight nurses have rescued and treated countless patients and know firsthand the importance of protecting lifesaving emergency air medical services. We will always work to put patients first and ensure all forms of health care remain accessible to them.” 

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 
  • Remain budget neutral. 

For more information on the legislation, see here. For more information about the S.O.A.R. campaign and the effort to preserve and protect access to emergency air medical services, see here