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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Johns Hopkins: Study Finds Sky-High Charges for Air Ambulances

A study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that charges for air ambulance services were 4.1 to 9.5 times higher than what Medicare paid for the same services in 2016. The findings appear in the July issue of Health Affairs.

The study also found that the median charge ratios (the charge divided by the Medicare rate) for the services increased by 46 to 61 percent in 2012–16. Air ambulance charges varied substantially across the U.S., and some of the largest providers had the highest charges. 

Air ambulances play an important role in emergency care by reducing long-distance transportation time for critically ill patients, as compared with ground ambulances. In the U.S., for-profit corporations provide most of the civilian air ambulance services. High charges are common for emergency services, where patients have few options to choose providers and thus are likely to be treated by out-of-network providers and billed the full charge amount.

The lead author is Dr. Ge Bai, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. Dr. Bai’s primary appointment is in the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business. Dr. Gerard Anderson, professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management, is the senior author.

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