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Adapted from Brookings; Chart: Axios Visuals

Air ambulances owned by private equity firms charge the highest rates — more than seven times what Medicare pays, according to a new analysis by the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy.

Why it matters: Air ambulances are frequent sources of surprise medical bills, and even when they're covered by insurance, we all pay for these expensive prices through our premiums.

  • 40% of helicopter ambulance rides result in a surprise medical bill, which averages around $20,000, according to a recent study.

By the numbers: In 2017, helicopter air ambulances owned by two private equity firms charged, on average, $48,250 — or 7.2 times the Medicare rate.

  • Air ambulances that weren't owned by private equity firms or publicly traded companies charged $28,800 on average — which is still 4.3 times higher than the Medicare rate.
  • Private equity carrier charges have also grown faster than the charges of other air ambulances, and by 2017, private equity controlled nearly two-thirds of the national Medicare air ambulance markets.

How it works: Charges aren't what insurers actually pay. But they serve as a starting point for price negotiations, and providers often bill patients for the difference between the charge and what the insurer agrees to pay.

The other side: Air ambulances argue that they must charge privately insured patients more to make up for low government payment rates, and for trips they never get reimbursed for.

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Dec 14, 2020 - Health

Lawmakers reach deal on surprise medical bills

Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Key congressional committees on Friday announced that they've reached an agreement on how to prevent patients from receiving surprise medical bills.

Between the lines: This doesn't guarantee that the measure will become law, but it's a crucial step forward on an issue that resonates deeply with many Americans.

White House removes Trump-appointed scientist from overseeing climate report

U.S. President Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

The Biden administration has removed Trump-appointed atmospheric scientist Betsy Weatherhead from her role overseeing the government's "definitive report on the effects of climate change," the Washington Post first reported Monday.

Why it matters: While Weatherhead has not been fired — merely reassigned to the U.S. Geological Survey — the move represents an effort by the Biden administration to remove Trump-era appointees from scientific roles, per CNN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Castro era officially ends in Cuba

Diaz-Canel (L) with Raul Castro in 2018. Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/Getty Images

The Castro era ended in Cuba on Monday after six decades, with Raúl Castro handing over the reigns of a party founded in 1965 by his brother Fidel.

Why it matters: Miguel Díaz-Canel, 60, now assumes the challenge of maintaining Communist rule while grappling with growing discontent over Cuba's economic stagnation.