Several federal agencies in the United States of America are now coming together to enforce the No Surprises Act. Thus far, the air ambulance industry has been able to charge the patients arbitrarily and the state governments have not been able to do anything about it. Now, this is all set to change with the federal authority weighing down on this issue. The main purpose of the act is to avoid any surprise billing or balance billing where the recipient of the service is liable to pay a part of the amount. The bill will come into effect next year and the hope is that people will no longer have to avoid healthcare due to the fear of high prices.
How will The Bill Affect Air Ambulance Cost?
People who come under Medicaid and Medicare are not liable to pay any out of pocket expenses. This is because the air ambulance companies are not allowed to send requests for payments to them. However, a large portion of the United States also relies on private health insurance. This is where the problem lies. With private insurances, the amount is only covered when a person uses in-network air ambulance services. Any service that is out of the network attracts a cost that is to be borne by the consumer.
The No Surprises Act Promises to Change Things
With the new No Surprises Act that is slated to come into effect in the year 2022, air ambulance companies will not be able to send requests for part or full payments to the consumers. Instead, they will have to make do with what the insurance companies disburse. If there is a dispute regarding the monetary compensation for the service, it will have to be arbitrated among the insurance providers and the air ambulance companies. The move will be a big relief for people seeking emergency air ambulance services.
The United States of America is among the countries which have the highest vaccination rates in the whole world. However, the vaccination rate is not uniform across the country. As a result, many parts of the country are now witnessing unprecedented Coronavirus positivity. Much of the surge is being attributed to the delta variant of the virus. Air ambulances are increasingly being sought to ferry patients across hospitals and cities in search of appropriate beds today. The healthcare systems are being overwhelmed by the number of people seeking hospitalizations in states like Kansas.
Air Ambulances Catering to Emergencies
There is no dearth of vaccinations in the United States, but many people have refused to get vaccinated or delayed vaccinations. Although vaccinations are not a guarantee against contracting the virus, they are known to mellow down the severity of the infection. However, it takes quite a few days for the effect of the vaccine to kick in. In the meantime, people are getting infected in huge numbers. Those who have not got even got a single dose of vaccine are now finding it hard to get ICU beds and air ambulances are taking such patients to appropriate facilities in far off places.
Air Ambulances Today are Better Equipped
The Coronavirus has dominated the world for quite some time now, and the safety and insulation protocols against the virus have evolved. However, it still necessitates wearing personal protective equipment, which can be quite limiting and physically exhausting. The personnel who take care of the COVID patients in the air ambulances must wear these too. Added to that is the heat that the ground crews of the air ambulances must bear. The hope is that people will be more open to vaccinations and the pandemic can be brought under control soon. Until such time, the crew members of air ambulances will continue to discharge their duties against all odds.
Air ambulances are helping patients to get appropriate care in a short amount of time today. The pandemic has subsided to a huge extent as several developing and developed nations have aggressively vaccinated their citizens. With this change in dynamic, people today are venturing out more and it is business as usual in most places. At the same time, the crime rate across the nations has increased significantly. The rural United States is not immune to this problem. While some of the stabbings and shootings are related to robberies, the rest are related to crimes of passion. Whatever the reason, the rural counties fall short when it comes to providing care in time.
Air Ambulances Fill the Gap
Several rural hospitals have shut down over the last decade in the rural United States. This has meant that people need to travel greater distances for good medical care. Air ambulances are bridging this need by reducing the travel time to hospitals. At times, air ambulances can cut this time into one-fourth of what it takes if one takes road transport. Research has found that taking patients to hospitals on time facilitates better treatment outcomes. The reasons range from availing of sophisticated medical equipment quicker to reducing blood loss which can often be fatal.
Stroke Victims also Need Quicker Treatment
The same goes for patients who suffer strokes. Research has found that people who suffer strokes survive and recover faster when they get the treatment within the first hour. Air ambulances can facilitate this through their quick responses and reduced travel time. Moreover, most medical flights are equipped with all the tools and expertise that are necessary to provide the initial care for such patients. Today, air ambulances even carry portable defibrillators and blood transfusion facilities. While the cost of medical flights can be steep sometimes, there is no doubt that they bring the money’s worth to the table.
The air ambulance industry and the insurance industry will soon be coming to a point of intersection as surprise billing practices will come to an end in less than a year in the United States. There has been great public support for this move by the government. The states that were, so far, unable to regulate the air ambulance companies owing to certain federal laws are now assured that prices can be brought under control. At the outset, it seems that everything will go well in the days to come. However, it is important that people look at both sides of the coin and weigh the cons too. Let’s take a look at some of them and the impact they can have on the people.
Private Air Ambulance Companies May Pull Back
While the lawmakers have been enthusiastic in forming the bill to end surprising bills, it must be noted that their involvement in providing air ambulance services to people has been next to nil. In an attempt to appease the masses, they may be shooing away new entrants to the air ambulance market. The United States, unlike countries like the United Kingdom, depend hugely on private players to keep the air ambulances flying. In this context, it must be noted that costs are must cheaper in the United Kingdom, owing to the fact that these companies are mostly charity based. Their funding mostly comes from corporates, the government and the local communities.
The Rural United States May Suffer
An air ambulance company that runs the least number of flights is usually the most expensive. The reason being the cost of maintenance is distributed among a small customer base. This is often the case with rural areas where the population is thin and the demand for air ambulance services is low. If the prices are standardized, air ambulance companies may be discouraged to serve such regions. For the rural United States, which is already suffering from a choppy medical infrastructure, it is not good news.
Every year, over 400,000 medical flight evacuations and rescues take place in the United States and each ride can cost up to $25,000. Going by these figures, it is obvious that the market potential is huge. This is a fact that has not gone unnoticed by private equity investors. It is, therefore, no surprise that the country has over 75 medical flight companies that have about 1,500 air ambulances. A big number no doubt but it also means that the market is competed out by these numbers. Now, add the burden of increasing security standards and the profit margins begin thinning significantly.
Medical Safety Standards Constantly Evolve
When you look at the number of medical flight accidents that take place, it is certainly much smaller than the road accidents that we witness every day. That’s because the safety standards of the industry are quite high. The reason behind this is the constantly evolving safety benchmarks laid down by institutions like the Federal Aviation Administration of the country. These agencies make it impossible for medical flight companies to adopt a lax attitude towards safety. They simply cannot fly without following the specified safety standards and defying them or trying to break the rules can result in license suspension, financial penalties and more.
Regulations are an Incentive for Safety
Regulations not only govern safety surrounding the customers, but they also cover the crew members. For instance, any medical flight taking to the skies in the evenings or in a bad light must equip its pilots with night vision technology. Coming to the cost of safety, this is one area where the medical flight industry is left in the lurch. The increasing costs are not given due consideration by the insurance companies forcing the medical flight companies to put the burden of payment on the end consumers.
This week has seen some important developments in the air ambulance industry. However, the news has been a mixed bag of both good and bad. One thing though is for certain, the developments are quite interesting and noteworthy. Here, we have chosen the top three.
The US Government Agrees to Compensate for Destroyed Air Ambulance Helipad
Recently, a helicopter belonging to the United States Defence had destroyed a domestic helipad in the UK. The helipad belonged to Cambridge University Hospitals. The destruction was an inadvertent incident, wherein the structures within the air ambulance helipad were ripped off as the defense helicopter took off. It had left the site not worthy of landing air ambulance vehicles. However, it has now been reported that the United States Government has offered to repair the structures. Most of the air ambulance industry in the UK is charity-based and the steep cost of repairs is certainly a burden.
The US Supreme Court Ruling About Air Ambulance Bills
Texas Supreme Court had ruled that insurance companies were only liable to pay air ambulance service providers a sum that is deemed fair and reasonable when it comes to worker’s compensation cases. The issue had long been a bone of contention in the state. The decision was appealed against and had reached the US Supreme Court. The state’s ruling has now been held up by the top court of the country. The case was primarily fought by PHI Air Medical.
An International Surge in Demand Owing to Rising Pandemic in India
It is a well-known fact that India is struggling to cope up with the rising COVID-19 cases. At the same time, foreign nationals living in the country are looking for an exit. While some of them have already left, the unfortunate few who have contracted the virus are looking at the air ambulance industry to exit the country, leading to high demand.
There have been a lot of developments when it comes to the air ambulance industry in recent times. The most predominant of these changes has been the attempt by the Federal Government of the United States to bring down the surprise billing practices. While the attempt is sure to help the patients, enabling them to use air ambulance services without the worry of payments, there are several issues that will bother the industry in the coming days. With insurance coverage being felt inadequate, the margins of the industry are going to dwindle down drastically. How can the industry adapt? This is the question we try to answer.
Air Ambulance Companies Need the Right Perspective
Most of the air ambulance services in the United States are funded by private equity and the organizations are obviously for-profit. A drastic dip in revenues can mean that a lot of the players will start looking at an exit strategy. However, this can impact the nation adversely as it directly affects the coverage, especially for rural America where healthcare infrastructure is less than adequate. This inadequacy necessitates air ambulance services during emergencies. If air ambulance companies shut down, it could be a fatal problem for this population.
The Need to Work Cohesively by Industry Players
It is time that the major players in the air ambulance industry look at cutting down the costs. One effective way of achieving this is a collaboration between companies. This will necessitate fewer resources as they can be shared. Consequently, the cost burden will be significantly reduced. It is also a time to look at acquiring smaller players who were anyway reeling under competitive pressure. Also, lesser competition means that each player will have a greater piece of the market pie. Profits will, therefore, remain optimum as the economy of scale will kick in.
Countries like the United Kingdom and India are already reeling under the second wave of COVID-19 infections. Nations like Australia and New Zealand are making it tough for people to enter their countries, protecting themselves against a potential spike in virus cases. Whatever said and done, it seems increasingly inevitable that the world, including the United States, will see the second wave of the pandemic. Instead of denying this fact, prudence lies in preparing for it. Air ambulance services are again going to be a big part of tackling this problem.
The Air Ambulance Industry is Better Prepared
The world knows a lot about protecting itself against the Coronavirus today. From the perspective of air ambulance services, the industry as a whole has adopted a sanitization protocol to protect the frontline workers like paramedics and pilots, apart from the patients. In the days to come, the heartlands of the United States are again going to need air ambulance services to get adequate treatment. In this context, it must be noted that the infection hits the older generation the hardest. Much of the rural population in the United States falls under this category.
Children May Be More Vulnerable in the Next Wave
There are at least three new variants of the virus present in the world today. Sadly, it has been witnessed that, in rare cases, even the vaccinated individuals are contracting the virus. Moreover, people do not fear the virus today as much as they did earlier. This has resulted in lax self-sanitization measures. All this could snowball into a huge spike and the air ambulance industry needs to be prepared in case the caseload is very high, especially in the rural United States where the number of hospital beds is still considered inadequate to handle a huge spike in numbers.
The air ambulance industry saw quite a few developments in the recent past. From making the services affordable to ushering in new technology, the space was rife with exciting developments. We take a look at a few of the advances that caught our attention. Read on, to keep up with the latest happenings in the air ambulance industry.
Cost-Effectiveness Becomes the New Mantra of the Air Ambulance Industry
More and more states are allowing air ambulance memberships now. With the pressure on the air ambulance industry to contain costs and the new curbs on surprise billing around the corner, many service providers are now offering membership programs at a very reasonable price. It will be no surprise if the service providers soon start offering privileged services through membership programs to stay competitive and gain customer loyalty.
Norwegian Air Ambulance Acquires New Technology
Technology has been at the forefront of the air ambulance industry. Keeping with the trend, Norway’s national air ambulance service has acquired IV fluid and blood warming devices. The new facility will increase the chances of patient survival and recovery. The device will allow the fluids to be warmed to body temperature before infusion. In essence, people will now be able to get better care en route to hospitals. The national air ambulance of Norway will have this equipment fitted to all its choppers and fixed-wing aircraft.
Military and Air Ambulance Industry May Work Together to Fight COVID-19
Militaries across the globe have a sizeable lineup of helicopters. The air ambulance industry is well equipped to turn them into make-shift medical flights with no structural modifications. An example of this was seen recently in Austria where a military chopper was fitted with a medical kit and a COVID-19 patient was transported using its services. Governments around the world can take a leaf from this effort to fight the pandemic more effectively.
The air ambulance industry, for the most part, had been opposed to the recently passed bill by Congress that seeks to put an end to surprise billing practices. The state governments in the United States have been on a long and hard-fought quest to curb surprise billing practices. However, since the air ambulance industry is protected by federal law, states were helpless in controlling their billing practices. This fact has now changed and brought along new challenges for the air ambulance industry. Most of the players in the medical flight industry are private-equity based and have largely remained out of insurance networks. The new bill can hit them hard.
Effect on the Air Ambulance Industry
Maintaining air ambulance services is no small task. From maintaining the aircraft and hangars to paying off highly experienced and qualified personnel, the costs are high. So far, the costs were covered well as the discretion to bill their services had no curbs. Now, with the new bill, the air ambulance companies will have to make do with what the insurance companies approve. Failing to agree on the pricing will only lead them to an arbitrator whose decision will be final.
What Can the Air Ambulance Industry do?
It goes without saying that profits will dwindle down. However, as most air ambulance companies have already begun doing, it makes sense to join insurance networks. This will ease the payment process. Also, it is time that the industry looks at quality services wherein patients voluntarily opt for their services, even if it means that they will need to pay an out-of-pocket premium. The air ambulance industry now needs to veer its attention towards brand building activities. In this context, it must be noted that the service providers are still not compelled to limit their bills. The only change is that patients will no longer be liable to pay balance bills unless they opt to do so.