Today there are over 1000 air ambulances in the United States. Competition is fierce as for profit companies are driving out nonprofits. The alarming thing in this industry is how predatory the air ambulance industry has become as they seek to cash in on the injured. In a number of instances, the patient’s location is within a reasonable distance to be transferred by ambulance. Also, patient injuries are not extensive enough to warrant calling for a helicopter. The patient may arrive at the hospital and then be discharged from the emergency room. A first responder has made a poor judgment in calling for an air ambulance. Tragically, the patient had no say in what took place. The family had no idea that insurance will not pay for transport and are stuck with a $30,000 bill for the ride. Unfortunately, deregulation of the airline industry left states unable to regulate air ambulance services or protect consumers from predatory practices.
Added to all of this is the dilemma of helicopter safety. Pilots may be under intense pressure to transport and this might affect his judgment. At this point in time, there has been an alarming rate of helicopter accidents that claim the lives of staff and patient. Clearly, this is an industry with multiple system problems that jeopardize patients and families who are then left with astounding medical bills that are unwarranted.
The big question is: what can be done to change the system and protect the unsuspecting injured and their family?