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GAO Probes Rapid Rise in Air Ambulance Transport Costs


The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report on July 25 about the rapidly increasing prices of air ambulance transport. Within a five-year period, the median price for travelling by an air ambulance helicopter increase from $15,000 to $30,000. This is about two-times increase in the cost of travelling by air ambulance.

Increasing Concerns Resulting in Probe

The study by the GAO started to evaluate the concerns of patients who received exorbitant air ambulance bills. These patients had little to no choice in getting transported by an air ambulance because of the emergency situations they were in. And they would then be hit with bills that have resulted in “devastating financial impacts” on them.

Air ambulance charges that have to be paid under Medicare are under a fee schedule control. But for non-Medicare patients, they can get billed the balance of the total bill and the payment made by their private health insurer.

Thorough Investigation on Air Ambulance Transport Costs

For their investigation, the office analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2014 regarding air ambulance prizes. The data was taken from a private health insurance database and from the Baltimore-based Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They also interviewed 26 stakeholders, which included eight air ambulance providers.

The office also interviewed officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation and from CMS to determine whether the federal government could make any changes and what are the potential actions to take.

The GAO report also found that this increase in air ambulance transport costs could be a result of market concentration of providers. It would be good to note that 3/4th of all the helicopters in the industry are operated by three large independent providers. And the increase in prices is also partly because companies would adjust prices to make up for the revenues lost in lower-paid transports that are covered by Medicare.

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