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Opinion

Air ambulance costs can leave rural families in debt

In letter to three committees and top House leaders, Rep. Axne highlights air ambulance trips that can leave rural families thousands of dollars in debt

Dear Chairman Pallone, Chairman Neal, Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Walden, Ranking Member Brady and Ranking Member Foxx:

As you work on bipartisan legislation to address surprise billing, I urge you to include protections from surprise bills incurred due to air ambulance transportation during medical emergencies.

In the rural parts of my district, a serious and life-threatening illness or injury can require air ambulance transport to the nearest medical center. A traditional ambulance, which may have to travel 50 miles or more, cannot provide timely response in our rural areas. For my constituents needing air ambulance transport, they do not have a choice over which air ambulance will be dispatched — this is a life-or-death medical emergency. Air ambulance service saves lives and remains a vital part of health care for my rural constituents and rural communities across the country,

When first responding medical professionals determine a situation is beyond their ability to provide that lifesaving care, an air ambulance becomes necessary. Statistics show that 90% of patients flown by air have suffered serious trauma, cardiac event or stroke. Often, someone who requires an air ambulance transport is unconscious or otherwise unable to make health care decisions. In these moments, no one is asking what type of insurance they have.

Unfortunately, I have heard stories from Iowas who were billed tens of thousands of dollars because they had to use an out-of-network or third-party air ambulance. Many health care plans across this country do not offer an option to cover an emergency air ambulance situation. Just one air ambulance bill may be high enough to force an individual into high medical debt or bankruptcy.

As Congress works to find solutions to surprise billing, I urge you to make sure that our rural constituents’ needs are included by addressing the high cost of out-of-network air ambulances.

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