Access to rural health care is in the news again here in Missouri. With rural hospitals closing across the state and country, communities are putting the future of their local hospitals into their own hands, and wallets. Such measures show that we are truly facing a crisis in rural health care.
Knowing the threats rural Missourians face, it is disconcerting that Congress is considering another measure that takes aim at access to emergency care. Recently, the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act which attempts to address the issue of emergency medical surprise billing – the cost insurers leave to patients after physician-ordered emergency transport, such as air ambulance.
On the surface, the bill embraces the right sentiment. Patients should not be burdened with shocking bills after requiring life-saving transportation, nor should they find themselves in the middle of financial negotiations between payers and providers. Unfortunately, the bill fails to understand that it disincentivizes in-network negotiations between insurers and air ambulance services, leaving air ambulances without the reimbursements they need to fully operate.
The result? Without funds to operate, air ambulance bases across the country will close, stranding many rural Americans from their last lifeline of health care access.
The Lower Health Care Costs Act is not the right solution for emergency transportation billing. We should consider legislation that focuses more on transparency, such as the No Surprises Act in the U.S. House, so we can better set the reimbursement rates air ambulances need to provide services. We need a more balanced approach that does not add another threat to rural access to health care services. I urge our federal officials to work to find a more sustainable solution.
Karan Pujji is a healthcare consultant and former candidate for state representative