Concerns about air ambulance charges have migrated from the tiny niche of workers’ compensation blogs to national publications such as the Los Angeles Times.
Media outlets featured coverage of families were stuck with hefty medical bills when health insurance failed to come anywhere near paying the cost of air ambulance charges leaving consumers with charges approaching $50,000.
Air ambulances are exploiting a loophole in insurance regulation. Insurance, including health insurance and workers’ compensation, is regulated by states. But air ambulances are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Air ambulance companies have been mostly successful in persuading courts that since they are regulated by the federal government, state insurance laws should be pre-empted and not applicable to them when it comes to their charges.
Many of the challenges to applicability to state laws in air ambulance charges have come from workers’ compensation cases. Workers compensation laws are state laws because the federal government had very limited power to regulate the workplace when workers’ compensation laws were enacted early last century.
Back in January I wrote about a new federal regulation that might allow some regulation of air ambulance charges. I still believe that the fact there is now some regulatory guidance on air ambulance charges may strengthen the case on preemption. The best fix to air ambulance charges may be federal legislation.
Nebraska recently enacted legislation that allows injured workers to delay the collection of unpaid medical bills that are part of a workers’ compensation case. I would imagine air ambulance companies will attempt to use preemption arguments to blunt the effects of that law in workers’ compensation cases.
Air ambulance charges are a subject of high interest to lawyers in Nebraska and other rural states. Injury victims in rural areas often require air transportation for emergency medical conditions. Air ambulance charges are often complicate the resolution of workers’ compensation and personal injury cases
Federal preemption of air ambulance charges adds other insults to injury to rural residents and rural states. Air ambulance providers base their preemption arguments on the same law that deregulated commercial air travel. Airline deregulation greatly reduced commercial air travel in rural areas to the detriment of economic development and quality of life. So the same law that largely took away commercial air service from rural areas serves to soak rural residents who suffer serious injuries and illnesses.
If nothing else maybe air ambulance carriers should be subsidized through the Essential Air Service program so that their services are not unduly expensive to rural residents.