Over the past couple of decades we have all become aware of the escalating costs of healthcare. One that has come to surprise those who live in a rural area who have suffered an unexpected injury and are far from definitive care. As helicopter services have boomed to cash in on Medicare and insurance payment, an unsuspecting public has been caught unaware. While an insurance may pay for actual medical treatment delivered in a hospital, it more than likely will not pay for the actual transport of the injured. These costs can be exorbitant and leave a family financially devastated as companies attempt to collect for service. Shockingly, some have received bills for $50,000 or more.
Medical helicopter service has indisputably saved lives, and in some instances have been totally inappropriate when an ambulance could have served the needs of the injured. Some patients transferred by helicopter have been discharged from the ER. When the life of a family member may be at risk, one does not think of the costs involved; they simply act then later learn their insurance will not pay.
Air Methods, the largest air ambulance operator, with over $1 billion in revenue is promoting legislation that was introduced in the House of Representative in February. This would increase Medicare payments to air ambulance companies. The assertion is that higher payouts are needed to keep up with costs and cause air ambulance services to have to abandon certain areas. Chief executive of the association asserts, “The reason this bill needs to pass is that it’s about access to health care. A strategy for air ambulance companies is to expand their network and add expensive new helicopters.
One of the effects of proliferation of helicopters is that it has created cutthroat completion as helicopters are chasing too few patients. This country simply does not need 850 air ambulances in large metropolitan areas perched on roof tops where they are inappropriately placed. Nonprofit air ambulance operator make up a large portion of the industry are finding it harder to survive as they charge less than their large commercial rivals..
Given the escalating number of helicopter crashes that have claimed the lives of both crew and patients, it doesn’t look like the economics in this industry are favorable. Passing legislation to have Medicare foot the bill is definitely an area that must be considered very carefully if at all. This is an industry that needs to look at how it functions and focus on safety. Lawsuits can become expensive as others become more aware of the dynamics of the industry and seek to challenge it.