What is Air Ambulance?
An air ambulance is an aircraft – usually a helicopter or fixed – wing airplane-outfitted with specialized medical equipment that allows it to transport sick or injured patients quickly, comfortably and efficiently over long distances or to remote areas. Air ambulances are staffed with trained medical personnel, medical devices and monitoring capabilities, and patient-specific medications for inflight care.
In today’s WatchBlog, we look at a recent GAO report on air ambulance services and explore how patients who are airlifted by air ambulance providers that are not part of their insurance networks could face substantial financial risk.
An air ambulance may save your life in an emergency, but it could cost you thousands of dollars—even if you have health insurance.
In a life-threatening situation, such as a car accident, an air ambulance can quickly get you to a hospital.
How Much Does An Air Ambulance Flight Cost?
Air ambulance transports can be very expensive. Air ambulance evacuations from distant international areas can easily exceed $100,000, and medical evacuations within the U.S. can be upwards of $25,000.
When a patient is transported by a provider that is part of his or her network, health insurance usually pays for part of the bill, and the patient pays an additional portion through a copay or coinsurance. However, out-of-network providers may send the patient a bill for the difference between what it charged and the insurer paid. This is known as balance billing, or surprise medical billing.
If you receive a balance bill for an air ambulance transport, here are some possible options:
The Department of Transportation has information on its website on how to submit an air ambulance complaint (a feature the agency added in response to one of our previous recommendations).
You may also be able to file a complaint with your state’s insurance department. We reviewed 60 complaints that patients filed with 2 states, and all but 1 complaint were for a balance bills in the tens of thousands of dollars.
You can also appeal the balance bill to your insurer or to the provider. Providers may agree to reduce the amount you owe, or insurers may increase the payment to the provider.
Questions to Ask Before Taking An Air Ambulance Flight
There are many air medical evacuation companies, so it can be difficult to choose the right medical transport provider for your needs. It can even be difficult to determine the difference between various providers. Here are a few questions you should ask if you’re trying to determine whether an air ambulance service provider is right for your needs.
- Are you a medical transport provider or broker?
- Is your company CAMTS (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems) accredited?
- Does the air ambulance company have their own aircraft that they own, maintain, and fly?
- What type of aircrafts does the air ambulance use?
- Does the air ambulance company fly internationally?
- Does the medical transport company employ its own flight and medical crews?
- Is the contract long and confusing?
- Does the company offer commercial medical transport or other less expensive options?
- Will insurance cover the cost of the flight?
- Is the quoted price what you will pay or are there hidden fees?
- How many years has the air ambulance been in business under the same name?