Confrontation between Air Ambulance Companies and Patients

The recent hearing of Maryland Insurance Administration was all about the unreasonable charges levied by air ambulance companies in the United States. Both the insurance providers and air ambulance companies tried hard to explain why they were compelled to charge such high rates, which range between $20,000 and $49,000. For many patients, the amount is more than their annual income. Many air ambulance companies, insurers and patients have been caught in legal battle owing to the high costs.

It was a Blame Game between Air Ambulance Companies and Other Parties

The air ambulance companies complained that hospitals do not look at the affordability of the patients before calling air ambulance companies for help. They also pointed out that Medicare and Medicaid rates were just too low to cover their costs.

Insurers, on their part, said that the air ambulance companies were charging unreasonably high and that it was no feasible for them to cover the entire cost.

The health care providers were of the opinion that saving lives and providing the best care is their main motive when treating the patients and that they are not responsible for analyzing how much the air ambulance companies charge.

Representatives from Air Ambulance Companies were Present

Air ambulance companies like PHI Air Medical and Air Methods were represented in the meeting. Several patients, healthcare providers, and insurance companies also were a part of the meeting. While many of the participants were physically present during the meeting, some chose to join via phone.

The Maryland Insurance Administration termed the meeting as part of the ongoing investigation into the growing complaints about high charges by air ambulance companies.

The federal laws aimed at airline deregulation allow air ambulance companies to charge their own rates without consulting the insurance providers.

Many of the patients were of the opinion that air ambulances were essential to save life but the huge air ambulance bills put their life in financial shambles.

Air Ambulance Service Sues North Dakota State

Wooden hammer with law books

Valley Med Flight of North Dakota has sued the state of North Dakota for trying to implement a law that would regulate the air ambulance service prices. North Dakota Department of Health and Workforce Safety and Insurance has been at the receiving end of this lawsuit. The air ambulance service, on its behalf, has said that the new law tries to override the federal law that deregulates air ambulance industry. According to the federal law, the routes, prices, and services of an air ambulance service cannot be regulated.

US DoT is with the Air Ambulance Service

Department of Transportation of the country has always maintained that air ambulance service regulation will result in overriding of the federal law and has reiterated the fact again. In fact, lawyer belonging to US DoT Jesse Riddle went on to say, “We think North Dakota has exceeded the bounds of the law.”

Although North Dakota had not directly regulated the prices, it is trying to impose certain restrictions that would indirectly regulate the prices through House Bill 1255. If passed the bill would allow insurance carriers to set the prices for air ambulance services.

Air Ambulance Service Prices have been on an Upswing

It is no secret that the prices of air ambulance service have constantly been rising. Patients usually do not have a say in choosing air ambulances during emergencies. However, when an air medical transport cost goes uncovered by insurance, the burden is too huge to bear for the victims.

There have been cases in the past where people have filed for bankruptcy due to their inability to pay air ambulance service costs. House Bill 1255 has already been passed in the House and the Senate and if becomes a law, it could be the first in the country that regulates air ambulance service. However, legal experts opine that it is highly unlikely that this bill will see the light of day.

US Air Ambulance Charges have Doubled Over the Past 5 Years

Heaps of US dollars

Air Methods, which is a US air ambulance company that was charging on an average of $17,000 five years ago, today charges in excess of a whopping $40,000 according to a statistic by Research 360. There are several factors that have contributed to this rise in price and the effect has been devastating.

Marc Dotson a resident of Butlerville, Ohio, was in for some rude shock in 2013 when a US air ambulance operator that had transported his wife presented him with a bill of over $22,000. The insurance would not cover the amount and the air ambulance company placed his house on lien to recover the money. Ultimately, he had to file for bankruptcy. Dotson is one among many American citizens who get caught up in such payment hassles.

Why are US Air Ambulance Companies Hiking Charges?

Legislation passed in the 1970s deregulated US air ambulance companies and this has allowed them to charge higher amounts without any government intervention. Also, many commercial air ambulance operators have added to their fleets of choppers which cost a minimum of $4 million. The rising competition has also meant that there are now more number of helicopters and lesser number of patients. This has forced the US air ambulance companies to charge higher to recover costs.

US Air Ambulance Companies Find it Tough to Deal with Insurance Providers

Private insurance providers have not always covered the entire amount pertaining to air ambulance travel. Even Medicare and Medicaid have strict norms when it comes to covering the costs. The recent attempts to contain the healthcare costs have only made the situation worse for the common man.

Over 400,000 people are transported via US air ambulance choppers each year. There is a need for legislations like The Medicare Ambulance Access, Fraud Prevention, and Reform Act of 2015. There has been a strong call by Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) for legislations that allow for better reimbursements. AAMS is a trade group of US air ambulance operators.

Air Ambulance Gets the Couple Stuck in Peru Back

This is not the first time that we have discussed people stuck in foreign lands due to lack of travel insurance and air ambulance coverage. We’ve also seen that most cases end up in a financial tragedy, but not this one. Marie and Russell Luttrell hail from Texoma, Texas, and were on a visit to Lima, Peru, for two weeks. Air ambulance coverage and travel insurance was probably the last thing on their minds, even though Marie was pregnant. This is because she was just six-month pregnant and even the doctors had cleared her for the travel. They were visiting Peru for a friend’s wedding.

The Couple was Lucky to Have Great Friends

Things took a dramatic turn once they reached Peru. Marie suddenly started having contractions and finally had a baby around Christmas time. Russell realized that things work differently in Peru. He was asked to pay upfront before each procedure. Finances were least of his worries initially as the newborn and his wife were still recovering and their health was his main concern. The thought of money though had bothered him a bit later. Thanks to his friends, money just poured in for their support. However, the probability of having to fund the air ambulance transport was still there.

The Air Ambulance Company did not Ask for Upfront Money

To Russell’s delight, he was not asked for upfront payment by the air ambulance service. However, he will have to wait and watch whether the insurance would cover the US air ambulance cost. The point to be noted here is that air ambulance transport across borders usually costs a lot of dollars. The absence of adequate cover can result in a heavy financial burden later on, in case insurance does not cover the air ambulance expense.

For now, however, Russell is a happy man as his baby steadily grows in a Dallas medical facility.

Is Telemedicine Making Air Ambulance Services Less Relevant?

Rural America has been one of the biggest markets for air ambulance services in recent times. The growing innovations in the medical field and the inability of rural health care facilities to catch up with these innovations, had earlier forced most rural patients to seek help in urban hospitals. Last year alone, 13 hospitals in the rural areas had closed down. This should have naturally increased the demand for air ambulance services since critical patients and emergency cases would need quick access to urban medical facilities. However, the demand for air ambulances has not been growing proportionately. The foremost reason behind this has been the cheaper alternative in the form of telemedicine.

Telemedicine is a Low Cost Alternative to Air Ambulance Services

Take for instance La Grande, Oregon; it is a town with a population of just 13,000. Today, the 25-bed hospital of this small town has access to over 19 super-specialties through telemedicine, drastically reducing the need for air ambulance services needed to ferry the patients to urban medical centers. Mayo Clinic of Arizona is tapping into the patient base of 15 hospitals in rural America today. It is catering to the needs of patients in need of emergency neurological care for ailments such as strokes.

What is the Rural Air Ambulance Services Market Staring at?

Telemedicine is increasing the confidence of rural patients in local hospitals, largely curtailing the need for air ambulance services. Take the example of Lincoln Hospital situated in Davenport, Washington. After the introduction of telemedicine the patient base has increased by 25% while the transfers to urban medical facilities have come down by 21%. The result has been a whopping $1 million increase in revenue for this hospital, according to Harvard Business Review. The people now have affordable care and elimination of the need for air ambulance services is just a part of it. Of course, the need for air ambulance services cannot be completely eliminated. There are always going to be some medical cases that need transportation to urban hospitals as all medical solutions cannot be given through telemedicine.

Will Air Ambulance Drones Ever Fly the US Skies?

We have heard of air ambulance drones delivering defibrillators. There have even been cases where air ambulance drones have rescued injured people when there was no other way of reaching them. Yet, one wonders why air ambulance drones are not adorning our skies? These tiny medical flights are much cheaper than a full-fledge air ambulance flight, even though they cannot actually perform all the tasks that they perform; however, even if they can eliminate the need for air ambulance services in a few cases, it can translate into a lesser cost burden both for individuals as well as insurance companies. So, why are air ambulance drones still not a common sight?

So, what’s Preventing the Use of Air Ambulance Drones in the US?

Federal Aviation Administration or FAA, which is the regulating body when it comes to airspace use, recognizes drones as aircrafts. So, if you are thinking these are nothing more than remote control planes, you’re mistaken. Earlier, the FAA had promised that it would come up with a set of regulations for drones in 2015 but the initiative has been delayed. FAA has now said that it will only come out with the regulations in 2017 creating an uncertainty over commercial use of drones.

How Can Air Ambulance Drone Help?

The possibilities are limitless. Apart from delivering qualified medical instructions to assist people in dire medical conditions in unreachable places, the air ambulance drones can also be used to assist people during natural disasters and even locate people caught in rubbles during building collapses. The delay in regulating commercial use of drones is going to discourage innovation in the field. Other countries like the UK, Australia and Canada already have regulations in place. It is hoped that the United States catches up with these countries soon. The regulations can also help create more jobs in the emergency response industry.

More than $100,000 Raised for Air Ambulance Transportation of Canadian Couples

It’s sad when tragedy strikes during the most joyous moments of our lives. Unfortunately, this was how events unfolded for this loving Canadian couple, a mere 6 days after their wedding. Lihsuan and Peter Ingram had chosen Columbia, South America, for their honeymoon where Lihsuan suddenly developed intracranial brain hemorrhage for no apparent reason on 16th of November.

The Hope for Affording Air Ambulance Transport Rests with Contributions Now

While Peter had to grapple with this unforeseen tragedy, he is also now faced with raising money for treatment and evacuating her back to their hometown in Canada through an international air ambulance service. With insurance not covering much of the estimated $164,000 medical expense including the air ambulance service, the friends and family of the couple have turned to crowd funding. Initially, they were able to come up with $20,000, which did not even come close to covering the expense.

The crowd funding initiative is also being promoted on social media like Facebook and Twitter by the well wishers of the couple. So far, they have raised close to $125,000. Over 2000 supporters have come forward with monetary support so far with amounts ranging from $10 to in excess of $500.

It is Wise to Know Your Air Ambulance Transport Coverage in Advance

According to Travel Health Insurance Association of Canada, in excess of 95% of the claims in the country were accepted last year, amounting to about $138 million. It is always good to know your air ambulance transport coverage and enhance it with additional coverage purchase when travelling abroad, especially when travelling to countries where healthcare is not so great.

With Peter’s and Lihsuan’s case, however, they’ve been lucky to have had caring family members and friends who have gone all out to help them so that they can afford the care and air ambulance transport cost, and of course, one cannot forget the contribution of the 2000 donations that they’ve received so far. It is hoped that they would be able to raise the target amount soon so that they can return safely back home.