Air Ambulance Bases Close Around The U.S., Citing Low Reimbursement Rates
According to the Association of Air Medical Services, 35 air ambulance bases shut down across the U.S. in 2019. That includes 18 bases run by a Colorado-based company, Air Method.
Citing low reimbursement rates from Medicare and Medicaid, Air Method said in a statement that they couldn’t afford the cost of operations. Bases were shut down in Arizona, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, Alabama and New Mexico.
More than 85 million Americans live more than an hour’s drive from Level-1 or -2 trauma centers, according to the AAMS, a non-profit organization representing the industry. The AAMS estimates that each air base cost around $3 million per year to operate. Furthermore, reimbursement rates for air services from Medicaid and Medicare are more than 20 years old and don’t cover the full cost for seven out of every 10 transports.
Carter Johnson with SOAR, or the campaign to Save Our Air Medical Resources, said other factors affecting the closures include uninsured patients and private insurers that would also refuse coverage, claiming the transports were out of network or medically unnecessary.
“90% of the patients are being transported because they’ve suffered a serious cardiac event, or other traumas – car accidents, for example,” said Johnson.
There are over 1,000 medical air bases in the country, according to self-reported data maintained by AAMS. Johnson said the 35 closures compounds the barriers to healthcare in rural America.
“It means that patients have farther and farther to go in an emergency,” she said.
A bill that would update the reimbursement rate for medical flights was introduced last year in Congress and has the support of Colorado senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.