Air Ambulances Are Flying More Patients Than Ever and Leaving Massive Bills Behind

An interesting story from Bloomberg on a new trend in health care:

The U.S. air-ambulance fleet has doubled in size in the past 15 years to nearly 900 helicopters making 300,000 flights annually, according to data compiled by Ira Blumen, a professor of emergency medicine and director of University of Chicago Aeromedical Network.

That rapid growth has made stories such as the Cox family’s more common. The air-ambulance industry says reimbursements from U.S. government health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, don’t cover their expenses. Operators say they thus must ask others to pay more—and when health plans balk, patients get stuck with the tab.

The fundamental problem is that the current reimbursement rates by Medicare, Medicaid, and some of the private insurance companies fall well short of what it actually costs to provide this lifesaving service.

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