A patient from a crash is loaded into an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter in this undated photo from Orange County. Hoosier Times file photo
A patient from a crash is loaded into an Air Evac Lifeteam helicopter in this undated photo from Orange County. Hoosier Times file photo
A bill up for debate in the U.S. Senate has the potential of shutting down some air ambulance services in the area, leaving some rural trauma patients without quick transportation in an emergency.

The Lower Health Care Costs Act, designed to aid patients in paying for out-of-network bills in emergency situations, hopes to curb “surprise billing” for patients. But it could possibly make care even more difficult to obtain in some rural places.

The bill would require insurance provider to set rates for air ambulance flights. This would save patients from having to pay thousands of dollars in bills for an emergency flight, but members of the air ambulance industry say they have to set high rates in order to cover their operating costs.

In March, the federal Government Accountability Office published a report saying 69% of all air ambulance flights were taken by out-of-network patients. Air ambulance flights are typically not called for by the patients themselves, but rather by first responders. They are often used to fly a severely injured patient to a trauma center after a vehicle crash or farming accident.

Medicare, Medicaid and many private providers pay for some of the cost of a flight, but often patients are left with tens of thousands of dollars in bills just for the flights.

Seth Myers, president of Air Evac Lifeteam, an air ambulance company which has a base in Paoli, said patients should not be caught in the middle for these payments.

“We want the patient held harmless, because we don’t want to try and work on what they’re able to pay. That should be for their copay and deductible,” Myers said.

The base serves much of southern Indiana. In the entire Air Evac group, 40% of the patients they serve that have insurance would be in-network for flights, leaving 60% with out-of-network costs, if they even have insurance. And most of the patients they fly are insured by Medicare, which pays about 60% of a flight’s cost, or Medicaid, which pays 30%. Those rates were set in 1998.
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