The US air ambulance industry has evolved significantly from the 1970s when the flights primarily catered to military personnel, especially during the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. Civilians hardly had access to medical flights in the country. The civilian air ambulance industry was quite confined until the 1980 with just about 50 players in the arena. Moreover, most of these were operated by the hospitals themselves. However, this changed in the early 2000s and there was a reason for this. The approach of Medicare to medical flight reimbursements drastically changed after 2002.
Medicare and US Air Ambulance Industry after 2002
Before the year 2002, Medicare veered towards non-profit air ambulances. The costs were covered based on the operating expenses and profits were hardly considered. However, after that period, the perspective changed and reimbursements were fixed up to a certain distance, and after that, the coverage was based on a predetermined rate per mile travelled. This was a huge incentive for the US air ambulance industry. In the ensuring three years, the industry grew exponentially with over 1000 providers entering the industry. Each year, over 400 thousand patients were availing this life-saving service. This amounts to about a patient every one-and-a-half minutes.
The Rising Prices of Air Ambulance Services
The prices charged by the US air ambulance industry drastically rose from 2010 onwards. The price that averaged just about USD 15 thousand in 2010 had doubled at USD 30 thousand within the next four years. Some were inching towards USD 50 thousand, which was an increase of over 250%. The attitude was that those who can afford the service will avail it. However, the fact that these services are often mandated by physicians and patients have little say in the matter made matters worse for the end consumers. The insurance industry, however, has stuck with its reimbursement rates. The end result – consumers are now responsible for the balance payments.