Expiring subsidies could cause air ambulance service cuts in California

budget cut

A state-wide system of about 70 air ambulances in remote areas along the north coast of California, US, is warning that it may be forced to shrink and/or dramatically decrease operations unless funding for Medi-Cal air transport patients is included in the 2019-20 budget or extended through backup legislation pending in the state Senate.

Christian Giller, President of the California Association for Air Medical Service and Director of Business Development and Government Relations for REACH Air Medical Services, noted that Medi-Cal patients account for nearly 40 per cent of the state’s medical air transports, but that the subsidised fees these account for are due to expire at the end of the year and, as such, the reimbursement rates will roll back to 1993 level. Giller also explained that, even with the subsidies, Medi-Cal reimbursements don’t cover the average US$25,000 cost of a medical air transport.

“They’re very needed services and, unfortunately, there’s no other remedy for the government, for example, to come in and say, ‘OK then, we’ll stand up those bases when you lose them’,” Giller said. “So, we’re going to do everything we can, but it’s going to be very challenging for the state of California.”

There is still a chance that that the state Conference Committee can pull in a budgeted $16.9 million towards next year’s fund, but time is of the essence, and many legislators are already falling behind schedule.

Still, many have noted that to be without air ambulance services would be a ‘hardship’ and an enormous loss to the community, which, like many others, relies on the emergency care, transport and prompt attention that air ambulances provide. Giller commented: “We’ll do everything in our power not to close bases.”