2017-04-19 / Local

Pickett leads discussion on air ambulance issues

FOR THE REVIEW

HARRISBURG — Responding to situations in which local residents have received bills in the tens of thousands of dollars for air ambulance services, Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) led a meeting of the House Insurance Committee to learn more about the industry and new federal legislation that may help.

“States like Pennsylvania need to have more say in this industry, especially in terms of transparency of cost and protocols for using the service, to protect the consumer who may not have a choice in transportation to a hospital or trauma center,” said Pickett, chairman of the committee. “Air ambulances provide vital, life-saving services, and they should receive fair compensation. But right now, states do not have the legal authority to intervene and protect consumers.”

Pickett noted that constituents who have received bills upward of $30,000 and more have reached out to her. In some cases, private insurance denied the claim or only paid a partial claim, leaving consumers obligated to pay the remaining balance.

Among those offering testimony were Raphael Barishansky, deputy secretary for Health Planning and Assessment, Department of Health; Paul Webster, vice president for Payer Strategies, and David Poulsen, vice president, North East Region, both from AirMethods; Michael Yantis, vice president of Government Affairs, Highmark; and Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller.

Tuesday’s meeting focused on whether patients have the option of refusing air ambulance transport; average costs associated with the transport; network insurance coverage; low Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement rates that shift the cost to other customers; and the impact on health insurance premiums.

Currently, a 1978 federal law regulates commercial airlines, which includes air ambulances. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana has legislation pending in the U.S. Senate that would carve out air ambulances from this law so that states can regulate air ambulances.

Pickett also participated in a press conference with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department on Monday announcing her support of the federal legislation.

“We fully understand that air ambulance transportation is a valuable service in our rural part of the state, and that comes with a cost,” Pickett said. “But our residents deserve to have some general information upfront before faced with that decision. That’s why it is imperative for the states to have authority over air ambulance companies so that all stakeholders can work together on a reasonable solution that will not leave residents with such an astronomical bill.”

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