Category Archives: Air Ambulance Facts

Not Just Medical Flight Services, Americans Increasingly Footing Medical Bills

Well this might not come to you as a surprise because you might have witnessed this yourself. According to one survey conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation, about 40% of US citizens have revealed that their families have received a medical bill despite being covered by medical insurance. This is a growing problem for the country as insurance companies are seen restricting the number of providers in their networks. Of course, out of network providers are not covered by insurance companies. In this context, the question arises, is it the same logic behind huge medical flight bills that people across the country are witnessing?

Medical Flight Bills and Insurance Network

A majority of industry experts believe medical flight service providers willingly stay out of insurance networks. The reason is simple, they lose the freedom to charge what they feel is fair for their services. It is also felt that there is a huge disparity between what the medical flight industry believes is a fair payout and what the insurance industry pays. The middle ground, it seems, is something that has not been achieved so far. The issue has not gone unnoticed by the lawmakers. However, the opinion is divided as to who is responsible for the huge bills.

Efforts by Lawmakers to Bring Down the Bills

Several attempts have been made to limit the amount that can be charged for medical flight services. From trying to ban balance billing to compelling air ambulance companies to come under insurance networks, several innovative efforts have failed. The reason behind this is the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Designed to create a competitive environment to keep the price of this essential service down, it precludes the state governments from intervening in the matters of air ambulances. Only the Federal Government is authorized to make changes.

Why is it Widely Believed that State Control is Not the Best for Air Ambulance Customers?

It is a short question that demands an elaborate answer. As the rural hospitals close at a rapid rate, air ambulances are playing a vital role in bringing patients quick access to emergency rooms. It is believed that, currently, a quarter of the population in the United States of America do not have access to medical care within an hour. It is air ambulances that fill this gap. A report reveals that 80 rural hospitals have closed in the past decade and over 700 rural hospitals, it is believed, will be closed in the next 10 years. Air ambulances are turning out to be critical services.

Time is a Factor that Air Ambulances Manage Well

A Federal rule says that air ambulances can traverse between state borders without having to worry about state regulations. This allows for seamless travel across borders without any regulatory hassles. If the states are allowed to regulate the air ambulance industry, it might so happen that traversing these now-free state borders could become lengthy or challenging to say the least.

A statistic says that over 30% of air ambulances cross borders annually. The state laws, if different from each other, might make flying the skies tricky, prompting the air ambulances to fly to another state because the regulations are less tedious.  A report by American Stroke Association says that brain juries not getting treatment in time can result in fatality or poor recovery. That alone should be an argument enough in favor of Federal regulation.

It’s All About Reimbursements

The reimbursements rates by insurance companies have remained unchanged for over two decades. This puts a lot of financial stress on air ambulance service industry. Unable to get adequate cost coverage, organizations are compelled to go to the patients. Most disheartening is the fact that the patients who pay for this service are insurance holders but without adequate coverage.

Air Ambulance Companies Caught in Health Insurance Spiral

Imagine heading a business where customers only pay you 30% of the time in full and the remaining 70% only pay you 50% of the cost. How would your business survive? This is precisely the situation of most air ambulance companies in the United States of America say industry experts. What adds insult to the injury is the fact that there is a outcry about the charges both in national media as well as people, not to mention the politicians who are trying to pin all the blame on air ambulance companies. Most players in the industry say that air ambulance business is getting harder by the day to run.

Air Ambulance Companies Asked to Do More

Rural hospitals in the US are closing down at a rapid rate. More and more rural patients are veering towards the services extended by air ambulance companies. However, the fact remains that air ambulance services are expensive and the costs are not being reimbursed by health insurance providers citing several reasons. While the most common is the ‘lack of medical necessity’ others simply have a small ceiling of reimbursements that have not been revised for a very long time.

Most of the Air Ambulance Costs are Fixed

Costs of running a medical base is, on an average, about USD 3 million a year. This amount accounts for about 85% of the costs and are fixed. These include maintenance of the aircraft, hangar, support staff, crew and the like. Then there are write-downs that are either forced upon the air ambulance companies or the ones that they undertake themselves on humanitarian grounds. All this adds up to a huge amount. Plus, there are always the running costs such as fuel which is also quite expensive. Industry experts feel that the demand for the services provided by air ambulance companies is going to increase considering that the population is aging, and that something needs to be done on a war footing to make the reimbursements commiserate with the services provided.

 

The Cost Factors Behind Medical Flight Services

When faced with an emergency situation concerning the life of a loved one, cost is the last thing that you want to worry about. However, it is always wise to have an idea of the costs involved in emergency situations and medical flight services are one of those. With the cost having doubled over the past decade, you must know what to expect if you’re opting for a medical flight. While most of the costs will be covered by your health insurance, you would still want to keep the costs low as you might be forced to pay the unapproved balance amount as it so often is seen happening.

The Cost of Ground Transportation

One cannot completely discount the fact that a ground ambulance may be required to transport the patient. It becomes an absolute necessity when it’s a fixed-wing medical flight, which can only take off from an airport. Even choppers can, at times, not reach the patients owing to the terrain and ground ambulance services may be needed.

The Destination of the Medical Flight

This is an obvious factor. The longer the medical flight, greater the cost. The nearest appropriate treating facility might be quite far and sometimes across borders – all this ultimately translates into higher cost.

Medical Flight Landing Fees

The landing fees depend on the duration that a medical flight uses the landing facility. This becomes a part of the final bill.

Type of Medical Flight and Number of Medical Staff

Long flights typically demand fixed-wing air ambulances. These can be more expensive than choppers. They are generally better equipped and considered more comfortable. The number of medical staff is also a criterion. Certain medical conditions demand that professionals in more than one field of medicine be present in the air ambulance and this can push the costs up.

While there may be other cost factors too, the ones discussed above are the major ones.

Airambulance Guide: Altitude Decompression Sickness

Altitude decompression sickness is not unique to airambulance flights or to patients alone. It is a condition that is generally associated with high altitudes. It was only in the 1930s that this phenomenon was recognized by the medical community. The problem was observed in aircrafts as well as high-altitude hot-air balloons. Today, we have a better understanding of altitude decompression sickness, but still, we are not insulated from the dangers of this medical condition. It is a must that medical crews aboard airambulance flights are well aware of this. Here, we explain this condition in simpler terms.

This is What Airambulance Crew Members Need to be Aware of

The basis for understanding altitude decompression sickness is Henry’s Law, which says, “When the pressure of a gas over a liquid is decreased, the amount of gas dissolved in that liquid will also decrease.”

The concept is best explained with the example of soda. What do you observe when the bottle is opened? The formerly ‘calm’ liquid suddenly sees a flurry of activities. The air bubbles that previously were nonexistent suddenly show an insane urgency to escape the bottle, pushing their way through the liquid. Why does this happen? The answer is Henry’s Law.

When the bottle is sealed, the pressure inside is at a constant high, but when it is opened, the liquid is exposed to pressure in the atmosphere outside the bottle, which is comparatively much lower, so much of the gas escapes the liquid.

How Does Henry’s Law Relate to Human Body?

Human beings have high amounts of nitrogen gas throughout the body. When the airambulance is flying at high altitudes, if the cabin is not pressurized, the possibility is that nitrogen will escape the body, owing to the decreased atmospheric pressure that prevails at high altitudes. Of course, modern airambulance vehicles are well insulated from such dangers and can safely travel at high altitudes.

What are the Limitations of a Medical Flight?

When time is of essence, no other transport is as effective as a medical flight. That said, there are limitations to this mode of medical transport too. A lot of issues also stem up owing to the fact that medical flight services are a recent addition all over the world. While they have been prevalent since decades, the extent of prevalence has shot up drastically in recent times. Here, we list a few limitations that one must be aware of.

Medical Flight Services have Limited Hours of Operation

According to law, no pilot can work more than a 12-hour shift in a day, regardless of whether he or she flies or not. Of course, some of the pilot’s time goes into the routine upkeep of flight logs, etc. but this does not necessarily mean the professional is paid less, and having several pilots is not a feasible option for most medical flight operators.

Extreme Weather Conditions can be a Problem

Think of land ambulances, their operation remains almost unaffected in any weather condition, but medical flight services are no insulated from this. Even the slightest hint sometimes can prevent their take off. It’s important to note there that haste to save a patient’s life can endanger the lives of the crew members.

Medical Flight Landing and Take Off

It is stating the obvious but airplanes naturally need proper landing facilities. Helicopters, on the other hand, can do with less space but it becomes a problem when receiving hospitals do not have a helipad, especially in urban areas, where space is always an issue.

Highly Trained Professionals are a Must

There could be two problems here. The first is finding highly experienced professionals to become crew members; this can prove tedious. Second, experience comes at a price and can, in turn, shoot up the costs.

Six Amazing Facts about Worldwide Air Ambulance Services

We look at worldwide air ambulance services to bring you some facts – some fun and some intriguing; nevertheless, they are all interesting.

Fact 1: The Wright Brothers’ maiden flight was in the year 1903 but the first air ambulance service dates back to 1870! Wondering how? It was the French who first found use for it in their military endeavors. The air ambulances were not really mechanical. What the French used were air balloons. Well, we can still call them air ambulances.

Fact 2: The common notion is that worldwide air ambulance services are sought to transport patients to cover long distances. Contrary to this belief, the average distance covered by these life-saving birds is just about 52 miles. Interesting, isn’t it?

Fact 3: Air ambulances played a big part in World War I and were a great success. After the War ended in 1918, the private industry was quick to catch up. The 1930s saw several private air ambulance companies across the world, but the greatest capitalist country in the world, the US, was a bit late to catch up with the trend.

Fact 4: The medical flight industry in the United States employs over 21 thousand skilled professionals. The average salary is over $68,000. However, their exemplary services prove useful to over 400 thousand people each year!

Fact 5: It is the ageing population that is driving the worldwide air ambulance industry. For instance, in the US, the industry is expected to grow at the rate of 10% per annum, mainly owing to an aging population. The fact debunks the belief that MVAs are what keep the demand high.

Fact 6: The air ambulance industry has more helicopters when compared to airplanes and the cost of hiring a medical flight can range anywhere between $12,000 and $25,000 most of the time. However, the cost can go much higher if the level of care needed is high.