Is an air ambulance covered by Medicare?

Medicare covers air ambulance services when medically necessary. The average median expense of an air ambulance bill ranges from $36,400 to $40,600. From the type of Medicare coverage you have to if your incident is an emergency or non-emergency transport, several factors may determine your Medicare transportation coverage.

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Chris Tepedino is a feature writer that has written extensively about home, life, and car insurance for numerous websites. He has a college degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and has experience reporting, researching investigative pieces, and crafting detailed, data-driven features. His works have been featured on CB Blog Nation, Flow Words, Healing Law, WIBW Kansas, and C...

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Laura Walker graduated college with a BS in Criminal Justice with a minor in Political Science. She married her husband and began working in the family insurance business in 2005. She became a licensed agent and wrote P&C business focusing on personal lines insurance for 10 years. Laura serviced existing business and wrote new business. She now uses her insurance background to help educate...

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Reviewed by Laura Walker
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UPDATED: Dec 7, 2021

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The Rundown

  • Air ambulance coverage varies based on the type of Medicare insurance you have
  • Non-emergency ambulance services typically are not covered by Medicare unless they are medically required
  • There are several laws and procedures designed to protect patients from unexpected air ambulance costs

Does Medicare cover air ambulance services? Each year, more than 550,000 U.S. patients rely on air ambulance services to safely transport them to the hospital for treatment. As a result, many of these individuals may be left wondering if their health insurance will take care of the expenses. 

Keep reading to learn how Medicare typically handles ambulance rides and what options are available.  

Enter your ZIP code for a free insurance quote and see if Medicare can cover your air ambulance ride today.  

Does Medicare cover air ambulance services?

When issues with your health arise, the last thing you should have to worry about is if your insurance will cover your ambulance transport. However, that is what it comes down to when determining if your ambulance insurance will cover these expenses.

The most common types of Medicare coverage are:

Medicare Part A

Medicare Part A typically covers services, such as:

  • Home health care
  • Hospice care
  • Inpatient care
  • Nursing home care
  • Skilled nursing facility care

Medicare Part B

Medicare Part B services typically fall under two categories:

  1. Medically-necessary services are immediate-need services such as:
    • Air ambulance transportation
    • Ground ambulance transportation
    • Durable medical equipment (DME), such as wheelchairs and scooters
  2. Preventive services are procedures that can increase early detection and prevent illness, such as:
    • Clinical research studies (also known as critical trials)
    • Screenings and vaccines
    • Prescription drugs 

Medicare Part C

Medicare Part C, also known as Medicare Advantage, generally covers services such as:

  • Gym memberships
  • Meal delivery services
  • Transportation services

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Medicare May Cover a Portion of Your Air Ambulance Bill 

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the average median expense of an air ambulance bill can range anywhere from $36,400 for a helicopter to $40,600 for an airplane.

Are ambulance rides covered by your insurance? Medicare.gov states that if your air ambulance services are eligible for Medicare coverage, you may end up only having to pay for 20 percent of the cost if you’ve already met your annual deductible.

By knowing these details in addition to the type of vehicle used during your ambulance ride and if your medical request is considered an emergency or non-emergency, you can better determine the possibility of obtaining Medicare ambulance coverage.

Emergency vs. Non-Emergency Ambulance Services

Does insurance cover ambulance services? Typically, it will cover a portion of your bill if the incident is considered an emergency. The greater sense of urgency it has, the more likely it can be considered an emergency. 

For example, if someone is located in a remote area and is losing a lot of blood, this could be considered a medical emergency that may require air ambulance services.

However, there are also less severe cases that can make your air ambulance services eligible for Medicare coverage. One exception would be if you were to have an illness that may require these services occasionally. In this instance, your doctor can provide a letter stating that non-emergency ambulance services might be needed.    

Common Types of Ambulance Transportation

The type of ambulance transportation assigned to you will depend on several factors, such as your location, the severity of your injuries, and more.

We’ve included a table of common types of ambulance transportation and the incidents they are typically used for below. 

Vehicle TypePurposeEnvironment
All-terrain vehicleOff-road responseEvents or inaccessible areas
BicycleResponse in areas large vehicles cannot accessPedestrian-only areas
BusNon-emergency medical transportation or a mass-casualty incidentWhen treating multiple patients at once
CarRapid response without the ability to transport or to exclusively transport patients that can sit downN/A
Fire engineTransporting patients that have the ability to sit down and require emergency transportationEmergency medical services that have been responded to by firefighters
Fixed-wing aircraftAcute emergency care and transporting patients from long distances or from different countriesRemote areas or long-distance patient transport
Golf cartRapid responseOn campuses or at events
HelicopterEmergency air ambulance transportationAreas inaccessible by roads or situations requiring quick emergency transport
Horse and carriageTransporting patients locallyPrimarily used in developing countries
Motorcycle/Motor scooterRapid response in an emergency that may require navigating in congested areasUrban areas with heavy traffic
TrailerTowing behind a self-operating vehicleOn small islands or areas with limited access to vehicles
Van/Pickup truckIntensive care and
transporting a large amount of equipment
N/A
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An air ambulance is usually the most expensive of these.

Types of Air Ambulance Transportation

Air travel is a safe and swift way to transport patients from point A to point B for treatment. There are two types of air ambulances commonly used to transport patients:

1. Rotary Wing Air Ambulances

These air ambulances are powered by rotating blades and are typically known as helicopters. They can operate in a versatile number of environments; however, they are ideal for traveling shorter distances.

2. Fixed-Wing Air Ambulances

These air ambulances can be either propeller-driven or jet-powered. A fixed-wing aircraft refers to aircraft wings that stay in the same position, and a great example of this can be either an airplane or jet. Fixed-wing air ambulances are ideal for traveling long distances.

Billing Laws for Air Ambulance Services

Are you concerned about your upcoming air ambulance bill? Nowadays, there are several laws in place that protect consumers like you from receiving unexpected medical expenses.  

The No Surprises Act

The No Surprises Act prohibits patients that rely on out-of-network air ambulance services from receiving surprise bills.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The Affordable Care Act is a series of laws created to make health care affordable to everyone. It achieves this by using an 80/20 rule, which requires an insurance company to invest at least 80 percent of the revenue collected from insurance rates, leaving 20 percent left for overhead.  

The Air Ambulance Affordability Act

Similarly, the Air Ambulance Affordability Act of 2019 is a bill established so patients in need of air transportation services are aware of the costs associated with air ambulance services before agreeing to the terms.

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Medicare Ambulance Coverage Defined

Does Medicare pay for ambulance services, specifically, will it pay for any portion of your air ambulance transport? It depends. If your situation is considered an emergency and you have Medicare Part B coverage, your emergency transport should qualify as valid means of Medicare transportation.

Will Medicare cover your air ambulance ride? Enter your ZIP code and get a free insurance quote today.

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