This week, the House passed H.R. 302 (the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018), which provides a full five-year reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration. Among other things, the legislation takes steps to provide consumer protections against surprise air ambulance billing.
The federal government treats air ambulance companies as an air carrier and as a result, air ambulances are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. This means that states cannot regulate these companies. Since the states cannot set rules for air ambulances, they have not been required to participate in insurance networks. This has ultimately led to uncapped prices and patients being charged the balance of bills that their insurance carrier won’t cover.
H.R. 302 would set up a council of industry representatives to oversee air ambulances. This council would be led by the Department of Transportation and consist of air ambulance providers and insurance carrier representatives with the goal of writing and re-evaluating consumer protections, including balance billing practices. A complaint hotline for patients would also be established by the legislation. The advocate responsible for handling complaints could pursue corrective action against unfair practices. H.R. 302 highlights that Congress is aware of the surprise air ambulance billing issue and it could serve as a stepping stone for further consumer protections in the future.
In May, the House passed a version of the reauthorization bill that would have allowed states to regulate air ambulance companies, including pricing and billing practices. This Provision was eventually dropped in the House and Senate compromise bill. However, NAHU will continue to work with Congress on giving states the ability to regulate air ambulances and ultimately protect consumers against exorbitant surprise air ambulance bills. The Senate will likely take up the bill after Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process.