Surprise Air Ambulance Bills: What You Need to Know About Sky-High Billing & Your RightsOctober 31, 2019
Air ambulances can be vital in medical emergencies and crippling at billing time. All too often, people who are desperate for life-saving care end up receiving air ambulance bills months later for tens of thousands of dollars. For most, these bills are as surprising as they are financially devastating.
Unfortunately, excessive air ambulance billing has gotten worse in recent years. That’s because:
- The cost of an air ambulance ride more than doubled from 2010 to 2014.1
- On average, the price of a helicopter ambulance ride is about $36,400 while the price of an airplane ambulance ride is about $40,600.2
- Since 2000, the number of air ambulances in the U.S. has more than doubled.3
To combat this problem, federal lawmakers recently passed a law to try to reign in the air ambulance industry and protect the public from predatory billing practices.
While it remains to be seen how effective this new law will be, here’s what you need to know about surprise air ambulance billing—and what you should do if you’re ever hit with excessive bills after an air ambulance ride.
Excessive Air Ambulance Billing: Background on the Problem
With few regulations, air ambulance companies have had the freedom to charge whatever they want for their services. That’s one reason why pricing has more than doubled since 2010.
Other key parts of the problem, however, are that air ambulance companies are:
- Not required to provide upfront pricing: This leaves little room for accountability or comparison when patients are left with astronomical air ambulance bills.
- Charging out-of-network rates for most rides: Out-of-network rates are always higher, and about 69% of air ambulance rides are billed at out-of-network rates.2
- Balance billing: Regardless of whether in-network or out-of-network rates apply, most insurance companies only cover a fraction of the cost of air ambulance rides. To recoup what insurers don’t cover, air ambulance companies will issue a bill for the remainder to the patient. Ultimately, that can still leave patients with bills for tens of thousands of dollars.
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The Fight Against Surprise Air Ambulance Bills
Congress has taken action to address the snowballing problem of excessive air ambulance billing. In October 2018, the F.A.A. Reauthorization Act (FAA Act) took effect, mandating the creation of a(n):
- Air Ambulance and Patient Billing Advisory committee: This new 13-member committee will address issues like billing transparency, surprise charges, and consumer education.
- Air ambulance industry oversight plan: This includes creating and issuing a report to Congress on what’s being done to oversee and regulate the air ambulance industry.
- System for handling billing complaints: This also includes developing guidance for states on how to handle air ambulance billing complaints.
Many states have also moved forward to reign in the air ambulance industry. For example, Minnesota lawmakers are now pushing to require air ambulance companies to print their prices. Other states, like Florida and New York, have gone the education route, looking to inform the public about air ambulance billing and how to protect themselves.
How to Handle Excessive Air Ambulance Bills: 5 Tips
- Ask the air ambulance company for an itemized bill, detailing the cost of each charge that comprises the total.
- Carefully look at the bill to determine if all of the charges apply to care or services that were actually provided.
- Contact the company’s billing department to ask about suspicious charges and ask whether you were charged at an in-network or out-of-network rate.
- Ask your health insurance provider about the charges they did and didn’t cover.
- Contact a medical billing fraud lawyer at the Amaro Law Firm to learn more about your legal rights and options.
Our lawyers can examine your bills, determine whether you may have been illegally or fraudulently billed, and help you take the right steps to get on the path to justice.
A Medical Billing Fraud Lawyer at the Amaro Law Firm Can Help You: Contact Us
You don’t have to fight excessive air ambulance bills alone. Contact an experienced medical billing fraud lawyer at the Amaro Law Firm to discover more about your potential case and get exceptional advocacy moving forward.
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1: According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)
2: According to a 2019 GAO report
3: According to industry data published by Consumer Reports