Protect Access To Lifesaving Air Medical Services For Veterans

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ngd-failure to maintain helicopters as a way of reducing operational costs is also a factor in helicopter crashes. Penny wise and Pund foolish…

Robert Vanbrocklin is a 61-year-old Marine Corps veteran. He recently suffered a heart attack at his home in rural North Carolina. Without access to an air ambulance, Robert would not be here today.

Veterans already experience numerous barriers to health care and a new change being considered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs could leave them, particularly those in rural and underserved communities, at even greater risk in the event of an emergency.

Last year, the VA proposed to lower its reimbursement rates for emergency air medical services. This change, which is set to go into effect in November 2023, would bring the VA’s reimbursement rate in line with Medicare, which currently reimburses providers at less than 60 percent of operational costs. This poses a serious threat to the air medical industry since Medicare, Medicaid, and other government payors account for roughly 75 percent of all emergency air transports.

For far too long, reimbursement rates have been significantly lower than the true costs of providing service. If this trend continues and the VA chooses to go through with lowering its reimbursement rate, air medical bases will continue to lose money and be forced to shut their doors – greatly impacting access to emergency care for veterans in rural areas. What’s more, this issue is compounded by the fact that approximately 600 rural hospitals are at risk of closing in the near future, leaving communities without lifesaving care and miles away from the closest medical center.

In January 2022, the No Surprises Act went into effect. In addition to protecting patients from surprise medical bills, this legislation requires air medical companies to submit their transport cost data to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS will then be required to produce a report using this data – something that has never been done before on this scale. As many air medical providers already know, this data will show that many companies are operating at a loss due to government reimbursement rates. Our hope is that the report will prompt CMS to update the air ambulance fee schedule, which hasn’t been updated since 2002.

SOAR is urging the VA to delay adjusting its reimbursement rate until data has been collected so that it can take into account the actual costs of transport. Our veterans are counting on us to preserve access to these lifesaving flights.

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