Private equity-owned air ambulances receive bigger payments, issue more surprise bills

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When transported by a private equity-owned or publicly traded air ambulance, patients had a 55 percent chance of receiving a surprise out-of-network balance bill of $26,507 on average in 2017, a Nov. 16 white paper by USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy found.

This compares to a 29 percent chance of being charged $15,671 on average by air ambulances not owned by private equity or publicly traded companies.

The analysis looked at commercial insurance claims data from 2014-17 from the Health Care Cost Institute, made up of claims from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare. It also includes data on air ambulance carriers' ownership type.

In 2016-17, allowed amounts for private equity-owned or publicly traded air ambulance transports were on average $32,051, which is 5.6 times what Medicare would have paid. For those owned by hospitals, nonprofits and independent companies, the cost is on average $20,146, almost 60 percent lower but still 3.5 times what Medicare would have paid.

From 2014-17, 89 percent of transports by private equity and publicly traded providers were out of network. In 2017, 59 percent of transports by providers owned by hospitals, nonprofits and independent companies were out of network, a decrease from 68 percent in 2014.

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