Category Archives: Financial

Choosing Your Health Insurance from Air Ambulance Perspective

Most of us have a fair idea of what to look for when going for a health insurance. What we don’t usually look at is the kind of air ambulance transport coverage provided. The medical world is increasingly making use of air ambulance services to get the patients appropriate treatment on time to better the chances of survival. You can never predict when you might need air ambulance services. Here, we discuss a few points that can go a long way in ensuring adequate air ambulance coverage.

Speak to Your Insurance Agent about Air Ambulance Coverage

This is one of the most basic steps in ensuring adequate air ambulance coverage. Plainly ask your insurance agent about it. He or she is bound to disclose this information. Also, you would be educated properly on the kind of extra coverage you stand to get, even if it means spending a little extra in the form of insurance premium.

Are You Satisfied with the Air Ambulance Coverage Offered to You?

Never compromise on the extent of air ambulance cover. If your insurance has limits on the extent of coverage and if you are not fully satisfied with it, explore other options. There are several private players in the health insurance sector. You are sure to find the right match when you look close enough. Some insurance companies have not kept with time and have not increased their coverage limits. It is best you stay away from such companies.

Check the Services of Various Air Ambulance Companies

Most air ambulance service providers help you with insurance cover. They hire specialists who will follow up with the insurance companies to get the reimbursements. Although the choice of actually insisting on a particular air ambulance service provider is slim, you never know, you might be able to opt for a particular one and being prepared never harms. Just pick up the phone and call some of the air ambulance companies and learn how they deal with insurance covers, especially when you have a private insurance.

Keep in mind that the letter of medical necessity issued by a doctor is essential but it does not guarantee air ambulance coverage. Ultimately, it is the medical director of the insurance company who decides whether you get air ambulance coverage or not.

Does Your Travel Insurance Cover International Air Ambulance Evacuation?

The holiday season is here! This is the time of the year when most people head to exotic locations all over the world. Travel insurance is today part of every individual’s holiday planning. You choose to cover minor risks such as losing your belongings that essentially have no financial consequences. You even buy flight insurance to cover your death incase the airplane crashes within the short duration that you travel in it. But have you thought about international air ambulance evacuation coverage? Missing this vital coverage could result in bankruptcy or at least leave you with a huge financial burden.

Why Purchase International Air Ambulance Evacuation Cover?

The exotic places that you travel to might not have the same standards of medical care that your home country provides. According to one estimate only 5 out of every 100,000 tourists ever need international air ambulance evacuation, but when you consider that over 60 million American citizens travelled abroad last year, the number does not seem so small all of a sudden. The need for international air ambulance evacuation actually seems extremely essential.

International Air Ambulance Evacuation Cover is Not as Expensive as You Imagine

One can buy international air ambulance evacuation cover through travel insurance for about $200 to 300. Seems expensive? Think again. Getting back through a commercial airliner with a nurse to accompany you can alone cost about $25,000. A full fledged international air ambulance evacuation can cost you up to $100,000. Also, keep in mind that Medicare does not cover you outside the United States. When you consider the financial risk, spending additional couple hundred dollars for your own safety and wellbeing does not seem all that expensive. Frequent overseas travelers can avail international air ambulance evacuation cover for roughly the same amount through annual plans. With a little thought and adequate cover, you can enjoy this holiday season without any worries at the back of your mind.

Medicare Medical Flight Coverage and Advance Beneficiary Notice of Noncoverage

We’ve already discussed situations where Medicare covers medical flight costs. It must be noted in this regard that the coverage is almost always given only when there is an emergency. What if there is a situation where you feel that you are entitled for medical flight coverage by Medicare but the company that provides medical flight services feels otherwise? This is the question we try and answer here.

Disagreement Pertaining to Medical Flight Need

If the medical flight company believes that your situation warrants its service, it will have no problem carrying you to the desired destination. However, if it feels that you do not need medical flight services, you might be asked to sign Advance Beneficiary Notice of Noncoverage (ABN). If you strongly believe that Medicare will cover the medical flight cost later, you can sign this piece of paper and get well on your way to the desired destination. The medical flight service provider would have no qualms about it. However, there are some aspects you need to keep in mind.

You Might Have to Pay for the Medical Flight in Advance

Signing the ABN also means that you would bear the cost of the medical flight if Medicare does not cover it. The air ambulance company may ask you to pay the costs in advance and ask you to recover it from Medicare later. It is necessary that the company asks you to sign this document as, otherwise, it may be held responsible for the costs incurred (and not you) in case Medicare does not cover the medical flight cost. You will never be asked to sign an ABN when there is an emergency.

If you refuse to sign an ABN, the medical flight service provider might still take you. Even in a circumstance like this, you may have to pay out of pocket if Medicare refuses to cover the medical flight cost.

Air Ambulance Flights and Medicare Coverage In Case of Death

Death of a loved one is always a sad scenario and the cost of transportation is the last thing that lurks your mind at that point. However, it pays to understand the Medicare coverage for air ambulance flights when there is death. Here, we discuss three possible scenarios and how Medicare treats each of these with respect to cost coverage of air ambulance flights.

Death Prior to Boarding the Air Ambulance Flights

Let’s suppose that decision to transport through air ambulance flights has already been taken. However, the patient dies just before boarding the air ambulance. In this scenario, if the dispatcher still has a “reasonable” opportunity to inform the pilot to abort the air ambulance flight and the aircraft has not taken off (even though it is taxied and is cleared to go), the payment from Medicare would be zero. You can still go ahead with carrying the patient to the desired destination but Medicare does not cover such air ambulance flights.

Death after Air Ambulance Flights Takeoff to Point of Pick-up

Now, we take the scenario where air ambulance flights take off for point of pick-up but the patient dies before loading him or her to the aircraft. In such cases, the air ambulance flights are paid adequate airbase rate without mileage or rural adjustment. A QL modifier will have to be used during the claim in this situation.

Death after the Patient is Loaded to the Air Ambulance Flights

Unfortunately, the patient dies during the flight or upon transfer to the receiving facility. Here, Medicare provides the coverage as if the patient was still alive. The death still does not ensure full coverage. Many a times, people don’t get full coverage of air ambulance flights even if they are alive owing to the nature of care plans.

It must be noted that Medicare coverage of air ambulance flights is very limited. You should further discuss the issue of coverage with your flight coordinator to get a clearer picture beforehand.

Air Ambulance Transport, Medical Insurance and Travel Overseas

We have already discussed previously that air ambulance transport can cost up to $100,000 when it involves crossing international borders. Now, add this amount to the medical expenses you incur overseas and your trip can turn out to be a physical and financial nightmare. Your Medicare and Medicaid will not cover you in a foreign country unless you have purchased supplemental coverage. However, they have no provisions to cover for air ambulance transport overseas whatsoever. Most health insurance policies like Aetna and Blue Cross too won’t cover you for air ambulance transport in situations like these, although they do cover emergency care. You might have to first pay out of pocket and ask for reimbursement later.

Look for Options that Cover Air Ambulance Transport Overseas

As a matter of caution, it therefore becomes necessary that people travelling abroad look at options that actually cover air ambulance transport back home. Let’s explore some of these:

  • Travel Guard by AIG is one such option. This includes medical evacuation, which means you have medical insurance along with air ambulance transport charges covered through the policy.
  • Med Jet Assist is another option. The only requirement here is that you are 150 miles away from your home. The membership allows the patient to fly back to the hospital of choice once medically stable. Med Jet Assist charters air ambulance transport for this purpose.
  • Air Med is also an option which gives you the same benefits as Med Jet Assist does. The only difference here is that Air Med owns its own fleet for air ambulance transport.
  • Air Ambulance Card is another company that offers similar services as Med Jet Assist and Air Med.

Never Travel Overseas without Air Ambulance Transport Coverage

It is impossible to compensate for the unfortunate hardships you suffer overseas sometimes. However, having adequate air ambulance transport coverage ensures that you get the best medical care in your home country. Often, the exotic locations that you travel have unhygienic and inadequately staffed hospitals. You do not want to be compelled to seek treatment in such conditions. Good air ambulance transport coverage insulates you from such situations. Plus the amount you pay for such coverage is negligible considering the cost of overseas air ambulance transport.

“Appropriate Facility” for Medical Air Transportation According to Medicare

Among the many conditions Medicare lays down, ensuring that “the facility is appropriate” is vital. Failing this condition, the medical air transportation service might go uncovered and cause financial stress on you later. Here, we try and understand what makes a medical facility appropriate. The data has been collected from Department of Health and Human Resources, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Medical Air Transportation Must Carry the Patient to an Equipped Facility

The appropriate facility could be an acute care hospital. The facility must be adequately equipped to provide hospital care or skilled nursing services which are in accordance with the demands of the injury or illness that the patient comes with. A physician or specialist who is qualified to take care of the patient must also be available at the destination that the medical air transportation carries him or her to.

Situations that Allow Medical Air Transportation to a More Distant Facility

It is generally assumed that all licensed medical facilities would be able to care for the patient. If the nearest medical facility is not equipped enough to care for the patient, medical air transportation of the patient can be carried out to the next nearest facility. The circumstances that warrant such medical air transportation are as follows:

  • The patient’s condition demands a higher level speciality or trauma care, which can only be availed at a medical facility that is more distant.
  • There is a problem with the availability of beds in the nearest facility.

The medical air transportation to a facility solely for the purpose of availing the service of a particular doctor is not permissible and might not be covered. Also, Medicare might not cover medical air transportation to a distant hospital merely because the patient desires it, in spite of the medical facilities being available at the nearest hospital.

Unless you are ready to bear the cost of medical air transportation yourself or have other means to cover the cost, these facts must be borne in mind. Knowing such conditions beforehand keeps you insulated from monetary shocks at a later stage.

Will my insurance provider pay for air ambulance transport

Primary health insurance providers usually only pay to transport a patient to the closest hospital or medical facility. If you are over seas and need to get home, most likely your normal insurance provider won’t cover it.

There are insurances that are specific to air ambulance coverage. Here are links to a few of them:

Air Ambulance Card -Prepaid medical transportation

Isis – Insurance company offering air ambulance program

Medex – Insurance company with air ambulance coverage

MASA – Mexico Insurance Professionals

Air Ambulance Cost and Cost – Effectiveness

Maintaining the resources necessary to respond with an air ambulance to an emergency is a complex and costly undertaking, much like that of fire departments and hospital emergency departments. The high fixed costs of maintaining a response infrastructure are necessary in order to be ready to serve.

This is especially problematic in maintaining rural emergency care services. Recent studies from the Capitol Area Health Roundtable and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have highlighted that current reimbursement does not adequately support the cost of maintaining services.

Helicopters and fixed wing aircraft cost millions of dollars to purchase or lease, operate, house and maintain.  Highly trained crews available on a 24-hour/7 days per week basis, and the infrastructure which governs, trains, funds, supports, and links them and their service to the EMS system, are also expensive.

As few systems are publicly funded, maintaining the availability of this essential resource inevitably translates into a single patient mission charge that seems expensive in comparison with a lower-priced ground ambulance for the same mission. It has proven a mistake, however, to make such an isolated comparison and to equate the lower charge with cost-effectiveness and the higher charge with costprohibitiveness. In the managed care push of the mid-1990’s, air ambulance service was interpreted by some in this way, as an expensive system contributing to the high cost of health care.  They postulated that the industry would shrink and require redesign.  That did not happen and, as the value of air ambulance service is increasingly demonstrated, reimbursement for air medical services has actually improved and services have expanded in response to other changes in the healthcare system.

At least one carefully constructed economic model comparing helicopter versus ground EMS has been crafted.  It demonstrates that on a system level (that is, funding a system of air ambulances versus a system of ground ambulances covering the same large geographic area and volume of calls), the cost per patient transported would be $4,475 for the ground system and $2,811 for the air system (1991 dollars). A cost-effectiveness study of helicopter EMS for trauma patients by Gearhart and colleagues concluded that such service is, indeed, cost-effective.  In looking at the cost per year of life saved by 500 emergency medical interventions, another researcher found the average to be $19,000 (e.g. clot-busting medication treatment for heart attack is $32,678; kidney dialysis is $40,000). That study estimated paramedic ground EMS to cost $8,886 per year of life saved while the Gearhart paper establishes a comparable figure for medical helicopter use of $2,454.

As increasingly difficult decisions about apportioning health care dollars in our aging society are faced, air ambulance service should not only be considered cost-effective in its current roles, but may increasingly serve medically isolated populations in new ways.