WASHINGTON — Northwest lawmakers in the House and Senate are pushing back on a proposed Department of Veterans Affairs rule that would cut reimbursement rates for air ambulance services, a move both Democrats and Republicans say could lead to delays getting patients to the hospital.
The VA says the change is needed to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars, a response to a 2018 watchdog report that found the department was paying 60% more than the rate it was supposed to pay according to a policy Congress had enacted. The proposed rule, which also applies to ground ambulances, would take effect in February.
In July, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers from Washington state — including Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane; Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside; and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez, D-Skamania County — warned in a letter, “If there is not an appropriate legislative solution, emergency services in our communities will be gutted and unnecessary deaths will occur.”
Ben Clayton, CEO of Life Flight Network, a not-for-profit air ambulance service that operates in Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, said the VA would reimburse only half of his company's costs under the proposed change. That could force them to close some of the helicopter bases they operate around the region, he said.
“What that means is that it could eliminate access to veterans and to rural Americans who are relying on those services to get to tertiary care centers,…