HARRISBURG, Pa., April 18, 2017 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller is urging Pennsylvania's U.S. Senators to support a bill that would protect consumers by giving states the authority to regulate air ambulance services. Currently, any state regulation of air ambulance services is preempted by the federal Airline Deregulation Act of 1978, and consumers are often left facing bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
"I have heard from consumers as well as state legislators about the problem of air ambulances not affiliated with a hospital, and not in an insurer's network. Air ambulances, by their very nature, are transporting a patient in an emergency situation," Commissioner Miller wrote in a letter to Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, asking them to support SR 471, sponsored by Senator Jon Tester of Montana. "The consumer has no choice over what air ambulance service is used to get them or their loved one to a facility that can provide the care needed as quickly as possible," Commissioner Miller said.
Miller testified today at a hearing in the state capitol held by the House Insurance Committee on the air ambulance issue.
Miller noted that a federal district judge last year struck down North Dakota's attempt to regulate air ambulance services due to the federal preemption. Miller said Sen. Tester's bill is needed to give the Insurance Department and state legislature the authority to protect Pennsylvania consumers. She added the bill does not impact airlines or other air services, nor does it set federal rates for air ambulances or add new federal regulations.
"I heard from a patient involved in a car crash that rendered him unconscious. The individual, while unconscious, was flown by air ambulance to a trauma center. His insurer is refusing to pay, claiming the situation was 'not life threatening,' leaving this person, who obviously had no say in this transport, with a $40,000 bill," Commissioner Miller wrote in her letter to the senators.
"I support any effort on the federal level that would give states the option to regulate air ambulances," Representative Tina Pickett, Chairperson of the House Insurance Committee. said. "Recently, I have had two constituents receive bills for over $50,000 each for an emergency flight from Sayre to Philadelphia. After the insurance payment, each constituent was sent a balance bill for over $30,000. Under current federal rules, states cannot control costs, routes or services, and I am hopeful that this federal effort passes."
"Air Ambulance is a vital service to all community members, but the service needs to be affordable, "added House Insurance Democratic Chairman Tony DeLuca. "I support federal legislation that would give state lawmakers the ability to protect our constituents from excessive air ambulance bills that could leave our constituents in a perilous financial state."
Miller said she is currently working in a bipartisan manner toward a solution to protect consumers from surprise balance bills from facilities and health care providers. However, even if this legislation is enacted, it will not address the air ambulance issue due to the federal preemption.
"First and foremost, we must find a way to protect consumers from experiencing these crippling bills at such vulnerable times in their lives, and as we work to contain the cost of health care, air ambulances must not be overlooked," Miller said. "These vital services save lives but must be affordable to the consumers who need them. SR 471 would allow states to decide how best to regulate the price and services of air ambulances, and protect consumers."
MEDIA CONTACT: Ron Ruman- 717-787-3289
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Insurance