HealthAffairs | Ambulance Balance Billing

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Most Patients Undergoing Ground And Air Ambulance Transportation Receive Sizable Out-Of-Network Bills

Karan R. Chhabra, Keegan McGuire, Kyle H. Sheetz, John W. Scott, Ushapoorna Nuliyalu, and Andrew M. Ryan

ABSTRACT

“Surprise” out-of-network bills have come under close scrutiny, and while ambulance transportation is known to be a large component of the problem, its impact is poorly understood. We measured the prevalence and financial impact of out-of-network billing in ground and air ambulance transportation. For members of a large national insurance plan in 2013–17, 71 percent of all ambulance rides involved potential surprise bills. For both ground and air ambulances, out-of-network charges were substantially greater than in-network prices, resulting in median potential surprise bills of $450 for ground transportation and $21,698 for air transportation. Though out-of-network air ambulance bills were larger, out-of-network ground ambulance bills were more common, with an aggregate impact of $129 million per year. Out-of-network air ambulance bills averaged $91 million per year, rising from $41 million in 2013 to $143 million in 2017. Federal proposals to limit surprise out-of-network billing should incorporate protections for patients undergoing ground or air ambulance transportation.

Balance Billing, HealthAffairs, Surprise Coverage