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Wyoming proposes turning air ambulances into a public utility

Wyoming has come up with a unique way to make air ambulances — a common source of huge surprise medical bills — more affordable, according to the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's blog.

The big picture: The state is essentially proposing to turn air ambulances into a public utility after its health department has put together a Medicaid waiver that would make all residents, regardless of their income, eligible for Medicaid coverage of air ambulance services.

  • Providers would submit bids to serve as the only air ambulance operator within a particular geographic region.
  • The state would make flat payments to the operator that wins the bid, rather than paying them for each ambulance ride.
  • Patients' cost-sharing would vary based on their income, and insurers would pay into the program rather than covering air ambulances themselves.

What we're watching: To go into effect, the proposal first has to be approved by CMS. State lawmakers would then have to make the necessary policy changes.

Yes, but: The blog's author, Sabrina Corlette, correctly warns that "both federal officials and state lawmakers will likely be lobbied extensively by the air ambulance industry, which has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo."

Go deeper: Behind air ambulances' astronomical charges