New Study Shows Americans Believe Air Ambulance Services Are a Critical Healthcare Service


07.29.2019

The results of a new national survey of 1,240 American adults, revealing almost 90% consider air ambulances a critical service in healthcare, with 95% agreeing that these services help save lives.

Global Medical Response (GMR), the world's largest medical transport company, today released results of a new national survey of 1,240 American adults, revealing almost 90% consider air ambulances a critical service in healthcare, with 95% agreeing that these services help save lives. In fact, 82% expect an air ambulance to be made available to them in case of a critical healthcare crisis requiring urgent treatment at a medical center.

The poll, conducted by YouGov between July 12-16, also showed 87% of respondents—93% in rural areas—believe health insurance companies should not deny coverage for a service ordered by a medical professional. In the case of air medical transports, insurers should not push back on decisions made by physicians ordering transfers or first responders who deemed the transport medically necessary at the scene. Furthermore, nearly 60% of people expect that any balance bills (the remaining balance billed to the patient after insurance coverage is applied) should be the responsibility of insurer.

Additionally, the poll revealed there is significant disconnect between Americans' knowledge on the number of air medical transports resulting in a balance bill and the true amount. On average, respondents estimated that 69% of patients flown receive a balance bill. However, that number is well below 10%, according to data from GMR and a recent study published by the Wyoming Department of Health.

"Patients should not have to worry about their coverage in an emergency, and insurers must be held accountable for paying fairly for these critical services," said Seth Myers, president of Air Evac Lifeteam, part of the GMR family of companies. "These results show the public agrees. Unfortunately, air medical services are under attack and current legislation is putting patients at risk."

Current legislation favors insurers
These survey results come at a time when Congress is considering legislation to address balance or "surprise" billing by setting "median in-network" reimbursement rates for air medical services. This legislation favors insurance companies and creates a financially unsustainable situation for air medical providers.

Worryingly, more than 100 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, creating an expanding healthcare desert that puts patients further from care. Air ambulance services have become the safety net for these patients, but many bases are also at risk of closing which would reduce patient access to lifesaving care, particularly in rural areas. In fact, more than 30 air bases have already closed in 2019.

Other notable findings from the survey include:
  • If a representative or senator backed legislation which favors insurance providers, 53% of respondents say they would be less likely to vote for that representative.
  • Nearly 40% (38%) have had a claim denied by an insurance company. Among the 38% who have been denied, four in ten have successfully appealed and the insurance company paid. Almost one quarter more appealed and lost, while another 24% simply 'gave up' and paid as they felt the insurer was not going to change its mind.
  • A recent report from the Sierra Health Group calculated that air medical services could be put in-network for a monthly insurance premium increase of $1.70. When asked if they'd be willing to pay this increase if it would guarantee access to these services at the price of their usual copay and deductible, 85% of respondents said yes.

A solution is already in progress
The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 created a joint U.S. Departments of Transportation and Health & Human Services Advisory Committee on Air Ambulance Patient Billing to find solutions to end surprise billing. GMR believes that instead of passing new legislation, the current process must be allowed to work by permitting the committee to come back with thorough recommendations rather than forcing arbitrary and reactionary legislation.

"Americans, especially those living in rural areas, know the importance of air medical services and want to have those services available," noted Myers. "As Congress continues to debate legislation that will impact this vital service, we urge members to focus on solutions that will help the market work better for patients going forward."

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