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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

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.

Mayors feel powerless to reduce homelessness

Expand chart
Recreated from 2021 Menino Survey of Mayors; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

America's mayors know their constituents hold them accountable for homelessness, but many don't feel they have the tools or power to fix things, a brand new survey says.

Why it matters: While homelessness has become more acute during the pandemic, city leaders say they lack the money, staff or political support needed to make a meaningful difference.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Microsoft to buy Activision Blizzard

Microsoft

Microsoft announced Tuesday it plans to acquire video game giant Activision Blizzard for $68.7 billion in cash.

Why it matters: The move comes as Activision Blizzard has faced a wave of accusations of workplace harassment.