ATLANTA–Georgia State University College of Law associate professor Erin C. Fuse Brown has received a one-year grant of $93,190 from Arnold Ventures, to develop legal and policy solutions to protect consumers from out-of-network air ambulance bills.
Arnold Ventures is a philanthropy dedicated to ending injustice in four issue areas: criminal justice, education, public finance and health. Within health, one of their biggest concerns is consumer cost, which is where Fuse Brown’s research is critical.
When a patient is airlifted by helicopter to a hospital for emergency care, the cost of that helicopter ride is often covered by the person’s insurance provider. As a result, the patient is often billed for the cost of the helicopter ride, in addition to other medical bills.
There are no legal protections for consumers facing high out-of-network air ambulance bills, which make up the majority of air ambulance transports. Even if the patient’s health plan pays a part of the bill, the air ambulance provider may bill patients for the difference between their full charges and the amount paid by the insurance company. Patients have received bills amounting to tens of thousands of dollars.
“An effective solution for out-of-network air ambulance bills would protect consumers from surprise bills and correct the market failures that have allowed prices to rise unchecked to sky-high levels,” Fuse Brown said.
Many states have attempted to regulate out-of-network air ambulance costs, including North Dakota, Tennessee, Washington and Wyoming. However, federal preemption by the Airline Deregulation Act makes it difficult for states to pass legislation. The Airline Deregulation Act, which passed in 1978, removed federal regulation from fares, routes and market entry for new airlines.
Fuse Brown’s project aims to characterize the problem of out-of-network air ambulance bills for policymakers, to assess the legal barriers to protecting consumers from air ambulance bills and to develop legal and policy solutions to protect consumers from surprise bills.
Two students in Georgia State Law’s Health Law Certificate program, Ngan Nguyen (J.D. ’20) and Alex McDonald (J.D. ’21), are assisting with legal and policy research on this project. Both have professional experience in the health care industry.
“This is a critical moment to push for air ambulance solutions when Congress is advancing protections against ordinary surprise medical bills,” Fuse Brown said. “We are hoping to convince Congress that out-of-network air ambulance bills are a particularly pernicious type of surprise medical bill and to extend surprise billing protections accordingly.”