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Air Ambulance Rides Average $32,895, but it’s Not Always Medically Necessary

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While the majority of private air ambulance companies are saving lives every day, there are times when a regular ambulance could have taken adequately made the trip to the hospital — potentially saving thousands of dollars.

Later, the consumer is blind-sided when they are stuck with a massive bill that the insurance company often doesn’t cover.

If it’s a life-or-death or a serious injury situation, an air ambulance is the best choice. In fact, people who live in rural areas may have no choice if a hospital is far away. However, industry watchers say there is a rise in unnecessary use of expensive helicopters in cases where a ground ambulance ride may be a safe and cheaper option.

In fact, in a study by the University of Arizona, as much as a third of those transported by helicopter were suffering from minor injuries that could have been safely taken by ground ambulances, according to conclusions reached in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

In some cases it’s actually quicker to take a ground ambulance as helicopters may not always have an open or safe landing option available to them at a given time.

A ground ambulance may also be a safer option in some cases, according to Ira Blumen, M.D., medical director of the University of Chicago Aeromedical Network.

Blumen’s research shows a greater risk of a helicopter crash compared to ground transportation due in part to pilot errors such as poor decisions, pressure and human error.

Yet the air ambulance industry is a growing market.

Indeed, the global air ambulance services market is expected to grow from $3.7 billion in 2016 to $8.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc.

An analysis by Consumer Reports of data compiled by the National Transportation Safety Board on air-ambulance accidents between 2010 and 2016 …

Air Ambulance Companies

There are upwards of 300 service providers with about 1,300 air ambulances in the United States, roughly double the number that existed in 2000, according to statistics compiled by Grand View Research.
Air Ambulances: A medical attorney in California weighs in
About half of the industry’s revenue is made by for-profit ambulance companies which have over the years replaced many formerly non-profit helicopters operated by hospitals or community governments. Some of the leading companies operating in California are: American Medical Response (AMR) and  Air Medical Group Holdings Med-Trans,REACH AirMed International, Air Evac Lifeteam and Lifeguard. Just four private companies account for roughly have of the industry’s revenue.

Does Your Insurance Cover it?

There are many reasons why an air ambulance is called, but one often cited is because no one wants to be held responsible if an injured person is not properly cared for much less the emergency response teams or doctors with patients under their care.

An injured person often has no way of knowing whether or not they need such services and they are at the mercy of attending paramedics, doctors, police and firefighters to make those emergency decisions.

Air ambulance companies then pass the cost on to the consumer. In fact, an analysis of Air Methods, one of the largest for-profit air ambulance companies in the U.S., shows a significant increase since 2007. Research 360 data shows the company’s charge for airlifting the injured over the years rose from about $13,198 in 2007 to $50,199 in 2016.

Most medical emergency helicopters are considered “out of network” by insurance companies and will not be covered or only partially covered.

People assume their health insurance will cover the bill because it’s medically necessary, but Consumer Reports says statistics show a rise in complaints over billing. The average cost is $30,000 and it’s not uncommon to get a bill for $50,000.

The reasons these bills are high is because costs are often shifted onto people with private insurance to make up the shortfall these air ambulance companies bear from Medicare or Medicaid programs whose reimbursement ranges between $200 and $6,000 per patient, according to the Association of Air Medical Services.

Take Action

  • Ask your insurance company to advocate for you to reduce bill.
  • Challenge the air-ambulance provider directly yourself.
  • File a formal complaint with your state government.
  • Find out if your air provider offers charity programs.

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