The Grapevine

How Much Is An Air Ambulance Trip To The Hospital?

An air ambulance is the best option to bring a patient fast and safe to the hospital for immediate medical attention, especially for highly sensitive and critical situations. However, some people may still opt for the standard ambulance despite the traffic jams and delays along the way.

That is because of the increasing cost of air ambulance. One short flight in 2016 required "more than half of the household income for the average American family,” according to Ge Bai, an associate professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

In the past three years, air ambulance would cost $39,000 compared to the $24,000 charge in 2012. In addition, the companies providing the helicopter also spend an average of $10,000 for a single medical emergency flight, according to the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS).

A new study, published in the journal Health Affairs, details the high cost of air ambulance and how it affects responses to emergencies. It shows that fees for helicopters commonly are five times the base Medicare reimbursement rate. 

Mileage rates are even bigger reaching seven times the Medicare rate. Some companies also use planes and jets as ambulances that cost four times higher and mileage rates nearly 10 times higher than Medicare rates.

The traditional road ambulance only charge fees that range from 1.5 to three times higher than the Medicare rate, according to researchers. 

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from Medicare services. They found that charge divided by the rate Medicare pays increased by 55 percent between 2012 and 2016, while median charge ratio reached 46 percent for airplane transport, WebMD reported Tuesday.

The Demand For Air Ambulance

The service is commonly provided in rural areas in the U.S. AAMS previously reported that over 85 million Americans rely on air ambulance transport as the only service that can bring patients to the hospital in an hour or less.

The researchers associated the significant increase in air ambulance charges to lack of oversight of how air ambulance providers provide prices.

"They are not required to justify their charge," Bai said. "Their charge is purely within their discretion. There are no regulatory forces to say you have to charge based on your cost."

Senate lawmakers reportedly are considering a bill that would ban surprise fees for air ambulances. 

helicopter A new study calls on companies to increase transparency in providing air ambulance fees due to recent spike in their charges. Pixabay