The year 2021 is behind us, and as we enter the brand-new year, we look at it with a lot of hope. The year gone by was quite eventful for the air ambulance industry, to say the least. The pandemic continued into the second year, and by the looks of it, is going to bother the world in the years to come. However, there was a silver lining. The latest variant, Omicron, although considered highly transmissible is less lethal, especially when compared to the previous variant, Delta.
Then, there was the issue of balance billing, which brought a lot of negative public perceptions towards the air ambulance industry. It had created a constant tussle between the health insurance industry and the air ambulance industry. The result was the No Surprises Bill – effective January 2022.
Customer Expectations in 2022 from the Air Ambulance Industry
One major expectation will be to utilize air ambulance services without the worry of having to bear the balance payments. Payment will now be a matter that needs to be sorted out between insurance providers and the air ambulance industry.
Rural America can possibly breathe free of the worries about the Coronavirus given the fact that air ambulance service will now be much more reachable due to the No Surprises Bill. Of course, it is yet to be seen how much of the air ambulance industry will be willing to support rural areas. The reason: with the insurance companies prefixing costs, the medical flight providers might witness dwindling margins and diminishing motive to serve far-off regions.
Differences Need to be Ironed Out in 2022
Overall, it can be said that the air ambulance industry is moving in the right direction from the customers’ point of view. If all outstanding issues are sorted out, it will be highly beneficial to all parties involved. Perhaps, the government needs to play a more active role as an arbitrator.
The No Surprises Bill is slated to come into effect soon. If all goes well, the bill will come into effect from the first month of next year. In this regard, the US air ambulance industry is preparing itself. This is especially so for organizations that are funded by private equity with the sole motive of profit. Survivability could be an issue for most small players in the industry. As with any other industry, the US air ambulance industry too may soon look at mergers to cut costs and increase efficiency. The primary reason behind this is an expectation that the payouts for the services are going to get thinner.
US Air Ambulance Acquisitions Cannot Be Discounted
For the big players with deep pockets, it is an opportunity to acquire the smaller ones to increase their reach. In this uncertain time for the US air ambulance industry, it would not be surprising that some of the smaller players start fearing bankruptcy. This is an opportunity for the biggies as they will surely get an upper hand in negotiations. The industry might soon veer towards oligopoly. In other words, it would not be surprising to see just a few organizations controlling the US air ambulance industry.
Rural Access to Air Ambulance Services
The No Surprises Bill has trained all its guns towards the pricing but not at the accessibility problems that may possibly result from fewer players in the market. It is noteworthy that the rural parts of America need air ambulances most but from a business point of view, they are the least profit-making. The result could be a lack of motivation for the US air ambulance industry to look at these areas. Of course, the government – through policy changes – can incentivize air ambulance services to look at these regions.
What makes the United States great is the choices that it brings to its consumers. Enter a supermarket and you find aisles that are dedicated to breakfast cereals alone and people love this fact. It also makes the prices competitive where the end consumers benefit from cheaper goods. However, when it comes to medical flights the same cannot be said. It is not that there aren’t enough medical flights in the country. In fact, the United States has the highest number of air ambulance companies when compared to any other country in the whole world. Then, why are people not able to freely choose.
Medical Flights Need a Marketplace
If you are wondering what a marketplace is, here is the answer. It is a simple online platform that lists various medical flights and gives you all the details pertaining to them. The details can be the price, the locations covered, the services offered, the logistical capability, and any other value addition that the company brings to the table. This makes it easy for people to compare the options before them and make an informed decision. The tool will also compel the medical flights to keep their prices competitive and give out the best quotes to the consumers.
What Else Can a Marketplace Do?
A marketplace can go a step further from being merely a comparison engine. It can become a place where people can discuss their experience with an air ambulance service. Moreover, it can become a mechanism through which bookings and payments are made. Of course, there is going to be a degree of regulation surrounding this. However, if the federal and state governments become involved in the marketplace to standardize it, the benefits can be numerous. It becomes a win-win situation for all the parties involved. For a model like this to be a success, the service providers must be mandated by the government to register on the marketplace, so that it becomes a comprehensive spot to compare and book medical flights.
Here is some food for thought – ever wondered how many missions are spread around the world? According to a 2017 statistic, the number stands at 430 thousand. Close to 50 thousand of them around from the United States. These people do good work around the world helping people with education to healthcare. What happens when these missionaries get sick or are gravely injured? You guessed it right. Air ambulance services come to their rescue and fly them back to their home in the United States. Most of these missionaries work in the remotest parts of the African continent where healthcare can be less than adequate.
The Cost of International Air Ambulance Services Can Be Steep
The air ambulance cost can go up to 100 thousand dollars. Missionaries, of course, are compelled to rely on fund-raising efforts in order to be able to afford these air ambulance services. A Tampa-based company has changed this scenario to a very large extent. The air ambulance company specializes in offering international evacuation services specifically for missionaries. Not just that, the company has gone a step ahead and created customized insurances for evacuating missionaries from all over the world.
The Name of the Air Ambulance Company is Jet ICU
Almost all missions that are conducted by this air ambulance company involve missionaries across the world. There is no corner of the world that it hesitates to travel. Of course, it has also conducted evacuations of people who are not missionaries. The company owns a fleet of six fixed-wing aircraft and an employee pool of around 75. The customized insurance that the company has tried up with is called Missionary Travel Association, through the help of Lloyd’s of London. Most of the churches today across the United States rely on it today.
Every now and then, we attempt to keep you abreast of the latest happenings in the air ambulance industry. This week witnessed some intriguing developments. We take a look at them in some detail.
Questions being Raised about Efficacy of No Surprise Bill Act
In the United States, air ambulance industry observers are looking at the No Surprise Bill Act with some skepticism recently. The reason behind this is the existence of the Airline Deregulation Act. Experts believe that the air ambulance organizations that are backed by private equity are most likely to look for loopholes by leveraging the Airline Deregulation Act. The new Act that bans surprise billing practices will come into effect in the year 2022.
Air Ambulance and Airplane Come Dangerously Close to Each Other
An air ambulance chopper belonging to North Whales and an airplane reportedly came dangerously close to each other recently. It is believed that the distance between the two was just about 50 feet. The paramedic seated in the air ambulance spotted the airplane first. He had immediately informed the pilot about it averting a life-snuffing situation.
The air ambulance had no prior information that an airplane was in the skies. It was a case of both aerial vehicles not knowing that the other was present. A situation like this is not the first. A similar situation involving an air ambulance and Cessna 150 had occurred in the October of last year. The incident brings to light the fact that air ambulance services must adopt mid-air collision warning systems and not rely merely on human alertness.
Unscrupulous Elements Disrupt Air Ambulance Services
Although the happening surrounding the incident are not yet clear, it was recently reported that a few youths had abused an air ambulance pilot in Derbyshire. The miscreants had not relented at that, they had gone further and tried to grab the blades of the air ambulance chopper in an attempt to damage it. Police were quick to respond and the situation had swiftly come under control.
The United States has one of the largest air ambulance industries in the entire world. This is in spite of the fact that it is not the most densely populated country in the world. It is, therefore, natural that one wonders why this is so. There are several reasons behind it. One of the prime reasons is the potential for revenue. However, there is another important aspect to it, which is not often considered. The United States is a country that has a huge rural population. It is without quick access to appropriate medical facilities and air ambulance services are a necessity.
Air Ambulance Services Close the Distance Gap
Although the United States is not a densely populated country, it is one of the largest when it comes to the landmass. This means that the population in the country is spread thinly across a large geographical area. Moreover, the cities are very thickly populated, which means the population in the rural areas is thinly distributed. This fact acts as a disincentive for any major medical corporation to have a facility in the areas as the number of potential revenue-generating subjects is very not that great.
Air Ambulance Industry is a Profitable One
Closing the gap created by the lack of medical facilities in the rural areas is the air ambulance industry. Most of the time, the only way a patient can get quick access to advanced medical care is through air ambulance services. This fact increases the customer base of the industry. With most of these organizations being funded by private equity, obviously, a lot of investment has gone into the sector. The result has been a huge increase in the number of air ambulance services that rule the country’s skies. With the surprise billing practices slated to come to a close soon, the general public will soon reap the true benefits of having several air ambulance companies at their disposal.
Medical flight membership programs have always been around, although not many have been very popular. Now, with the regulations surrounding surprise medical bills, medical flight service providers are thinking of new ways to stay afloat. Will this mean that membership programs will be redesigned by most of them? It is a question that has remained unanswered, but something that the industry must look at closely.
The disconnect between medical flight service providers has been that they do not honor each other’s memberships. This leaves the members with limited options, wherein they are confined to availing services only from a few medical flight services. In emergencies, they may end up hiring any air ambulance service.
Will the Medical Flight Service Providers Come Together?
This is a big question that has remained unanswered so far. However, the medical flight industry has much to gain if this becomes a reality. Imagine how convenient it would be if one membership would cover all the medical flight services across the country and even across borders. Members simply would not have to worry about the cost. All they would need to do is pay an annual membership fee and the whole family would be covered.
Will Memberships Continue to Remain Popular?
It is likely that medical flight membership programs will gain in popularity. This will be the case even if there is an end to surprise billing. The reason is this: non-emergency medical flight services may still demand out-of-pocket payments. Having a membership can negate this issue. It is for this reason that medical flight memberships will continue to retain their utility. Plus, with the pandemic still not under control, air ambulances can come in handy, especially if it involves flying huge distances for appropriate treatment. The one factor that will continue to retain focus is the acceptability of memberships across service providers.
Customization has been a need of the air ambulance industry for a long time now. The customizations, however, have been mainly aimed at internal modifications to make maximum utilization of space. Another set of redesigns have come in the form of changes to the medical equipment with the objective of making them lighter and compact. As a result, the air ambulance vehicles that we see today are equipped with medical gadgets that can put regular intensive care units to shame. However, the industry is demanding even more, and rightly so. Offering premium services is what the air ambulance industry has strived for.
Air Ambulance Design Basics Need Change
The aircraft industry is highly evolved today and is looking to implement innovations. It is now looking at the air ambulance industry to spread its market reach further. It is a win-win situation for both industries.
For the aircraft manufacturing industry, it is a chance to widen its market as the traditional markets have seen a sharp slump in recent times. The COVID-19 situation has only worsened the existing situation. On the other hand, the air ambulance industry has had its own design demands.
What does the Air Ambulance Industry Need?
Efficiency when it comes to space is perhaps the biggest demand of the air ambulance industry. To make a true difference, medical flight designs need a fundamental change in design. The aircraft need to be lighter, yet more space-efficient.
Another requirement is maneuverability. The design needs to be such that an air ambulance must be able to land and take off amid heavy traffic. The ability to reach tough terrains is another requirement.
When achieving all this, the aircraft needs to be silent enough so that the patients are offered a comfortable flight. It is heartening to see that innovations in this space today are moving in the right direction.
Although the congressional bill that seeks to ban surprise billing is not limited to the medical flight industry, much has been made out about it. The bill will span the entire medical industry including doctors and medical service providers. Since the bill is Federal, it will apply to the medical flight industry too. However, this long-drawn bill was seen as a battleground with insurance providers on one side and the rest of the medical fraternity on the other. Who won the battle? This was the question that most people were asking at the end of it all.
It was a Balanced Bill with No Defeats
The main source of contention was the fixing of prices for various medical services. The insurance industry was bent on fixing it according to their prevailing rates, which, frankly, were outdated. On the other hand, the medical fraternity, including the air ambulance industry, wanted the government to consider its price list. However, it was widely believed that the list consisted of highly inflated prices. Realistically, it was never expected to be accepted even by those who were advocating it. The congressional bill has skilfully navigated between the industries to ensure that all involved parties get a fair deal.
Medical Flight Services Get the Option for Arbitration
The dispute about medical flight bills has always been between the insurance and the air ambulance industry. However, common citizens have borne the brunt of it. Now, however, the bill will introduce a mechanism for arbitration between the two parties so that they can sort it between themselves and leave the patients out of it. This will ensure that no patient gets a surprise medical flight bill even if the provider is out of network. The bill goes on to suggest protection for those without insurance too, in case of health emergencies. The way forward, it seems, is coming to a consensus for both industries.
Medical air transport is going to play a crucial role in the days to come as we had predicted earlier. For instance, the doctors in certain rural parts of the United States are predicting a surge in patient intake due to the COVID-19 pandemic. An unsustainable demand for quality medical care is on the horizon. The country today is witnessing a record-breaking increase in infections, and they are not limited to the urban parts of the country. Medical air transport is slated to be of extreme importance to offer patients the care they truly deserve. The industry too seems prepared for this second surge of infections.
Medical Air Transport Industry is Prepared
We know much more about the COVID-19 infection today. Complications that require ventilator support and even lung transplant in some instances have been factored in. The medical air transport vehicles today are equipped to handle such complications. More importantly, medical experts have now gained enough knowledge that they know patients might even need to be sedated throughout the journey, and they are ready for eventualities like these. Such need arises due to the agony that the infection causes in some serious cases.
The Number of Emergency Calls Has Gone Up
During the first wave of infections, people were not very keen on venturing out. However, due to the persistence of the pandemic, it is now economically impossible for people to stay away from their jobs. This has led to an increased number of people getting out of their homes and consequently, there is an increase in road accidents, etc, which demand the services of the medical air transport industry. The fact coupled with the increased number of infections and the shortage of appropriate medical facilities in rural communities has led to an unprecedented demand for air ambulances. The only solace in this scenario is the preparedness of the medical air transport industry, which is very high.