Air Ambulance Charges Continue Rapid Ascent

 - October 8, 2021, 7:24 AM

The cost of helicopter air ambulance transport continued to soar between 2017 and 2020, rising 22.2 percent in the U.S., more than three times the cumulative 6 percent inflation rate for those years. That's according to a study from Fair Health, a nonprofit organization that manages a healthcare database of privately billed healthcare claims. However, the rate of increase closely matches the overall medical inflation rate of 22.9 percent for the period. 

Between 2017 and 2020, the average charge for helicopter transports rose from $24,924 to $30,446, while the average charge for fixed-wing transports increased even more, by 27.6 percent, from $19,210 to $24,507. Meanwhile, the average Medicare reimbursement rate for the period for both forms of transport increased only 4.7 percent, rising from $3,570 to $3,739 for helicopter transports and from $3,071 to $3,216 for fixed-wing transports.

Covid transports accounted for 7 percent of fixed-wing transports in 2020. In that year, the states with the highest use of helicopter air ambulances—as a percentage of medical claims filed—were Idaho, New Mexico, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming, while those flying the longest-distance transports were Hawaii (126 miles), North Dakota (115 miles), Wyoming (110 miles), Nebraska (94 miles), and New Mexico (90 miles).