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.
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 Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire Medical Air Services recently revealed that they are witnessing a whopping 40% increase in demand for their services. On the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic has seen a sharp fall in the finances.
As the nations around the world have eased lockdowns, more and more people are out on the streets. This has increased the chances of injuries related to accidents and crime. The medical air services are seeing a proportionate increase in demand due to these factors.
In regions where the lockdowns have not been eased, the rise in domestic violence and anxiety-related ailments are on a sharp rise. However, the medical flight companies are in a bind.
Health Risk Faced by Medical Air Services Crews
The crews of medical air services are highly exposed to the risk of contracting deadly Coronavirus. When you look at the world scenario, there have been several reports of frontline workers being infected. This puts added pressure on the remaining staff. Added to this problem is the inability to act fast due to the stringent disinfection process being put in place for the safety of the crew as well as the patients.
Air Ambulance Organizations Dependent on Charities are Struggling to Raise Money
It is a known fact that people around the world are losing jobs and consequently their income. In a situation like this, raising money for causes like that of medical air services is an uphill task. For countries like the United Kingdom where air ambulance organizations depend heavily on charity, this is a big blow. Besides, it is tough for individuals to initiate fund-raising activities. All these factors have rendered the industry a heavy blow. Countries like the United States where air ambulance companies are already reeling under losses, shutting down seems like a real threat.
Previously, the only use that was being seen for medical flight services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic was the transportation of infected patients from rural America. The reasoning behind this was that the urban part of the nation is better equipped to provide healthcare. However, it was later seen that the rural spread was quite limited. Unfortunately, recent trends have been quite different. While global cities such as New York continue to grapple with the disease, the infection is now seen making way towards inner parts of the nation, especially the rural regions. The reason for this could be several, including people from cities finding save havens in isolated rural regions.
Chronically Ill will Need Medical Flight Services
The Novel Coronavirus is known to increase the risk of people with co-morbidities, especially if they are over 60 years of age. It must be noted in this context that most of the rural population in the United States is old and is at high risk of losing lives if faced by a COVID-19 attack. Imagine someone suffering from cancer and also contracting the disease. The only recourse would be to take the patient to the nearest appropriate treating facility in the shortest possible time. That would, undoubtedly, necessitate medical flight services.
An Industry Struggling to Stay Afloat
The medical flight industry has been at the forefront of evacuating American citizens who are stuck in countries hit by COVID-19. However, it is worth noting here that the industry, which was already struggling to survive due to high costs, has had it even worse amid the pandemic. The demand for services has fallen drastically. Moreover, personal protective equipment has been hard to procure. The biggest hurdle has been the lack of frontline workers as most of them are now fighting the virus on the ground.
Healthcare costs are not just about air ambulance costs. The United States of America has one of the highest healthcare costs in the entire world. An average American spends over 10 thousand USD in a year and the nation spends 3.3 trillion USD each year. This amounts to about 18 percent of the country’s GDP. Let alone the need for an air ambulance, a simple emergency room visit can leave a foreign national in huge debt. Hospitals simply do not release patients unless the care debts are paid out in full. A scenario like this can quickly turn a fun vacation into a financial nightmare, leaving the patient bankrupt.
A New Legislation May Necessitate Insurance
Although the legislation is primarily targeted towards immigrants to the nation, it is not entirely clear whether it applies to visitors to the nation as well. According to the new law, immigrants will have to purchase insurance for a period of 365 days or until such time that they stay in the country, whichever comes earlier. The move is meant to insulate the country from bearing high healthcare costs. In the face of this uncertainty, experts recommend that, regardless of the regulation, visitors must opt for comprehensive insurance.
A Policy that Covers Air Ambulance Services is Ideal
Not all visitors to the country arrive without insurance. However, many of them do not opt for adequate coverage. A slightly expensive premium can offer comprehensive coverage. Here is a scenario: you embark on a cruise during your visit. Unfortunately, you end up having a stroke. You will need to be flown to the nearest appropriate medical facility via an air ambulance service. The cost of this transport is going to cost quite a lot. The wise thing to do, therefore, is to explicitly ask your insurance provider about air ambulance coverage to stay safe.
When it comes to communities funding air ambulance services, United Kingdom leads the way, and there is no doubt about it. It is the involvement of the locals that makes it happen. People are known to undertake several community efforts, no matter how small, to keep the medical flights funded. From marathons to selling cookies, people contribute in their own way through innovative fund-raising efforts. The question that such undertakings raise is this: does this method work across the board? The answer to this simple question, however, is quite complex and the success is dependent on several factors. Let’s take a look at some of them.
The Absence of Significant Private Air Ambulance Companies
In a country like the United States, there are several private players who do an exemplary job to provide air ambulance coverage. They span a wide network of rural areas with zero compromise on quality of transport. The problem, however, is the price that they charge. In the absence of adequate insurance coverage, they can turn out to be a huge challenge to pay off. Of course, there is the issue of network coverage and surprise billing that has got the country concerned lately. This is the prime factor that is pushing people to look at alternate means of funding air ambulance services.
Community Funding is Not Always Successful
The estimated cost of keeping air ambulance services floating runs over a million dollars. Even the most successful charitable medical flight services do not rely solely on community funding to satisfy this need. Governments and corporate organizations play an active role in their funding. Moreover, prominent personalities are known to raise awareness and extend support to raise awareness about the services. In the United States, however, such an ecosystem is completely missing. Unless there is a concerted effort to get it in, such efforts are bound to fail.
With rural hospitals in the United States closing down at an alarming rate, telemedicine is among the tools, along with air ambulance services, that is filling the void. Imagine a possibility where telemedicine is made available in medical flights. It would have a lasting impact on efficiency, quality of care and also costs. In this guide, we discuss the various possibilities in some detail.
Doctors Take Cubicles for Air Ambulance Services
Telemedicine essentially is an internet-enabled concept where the doctor in front of a computer relays real-time information through video conferencing. Of course, there needs to be a medical professional on the other end too, so that the physician’s instructions are followed correctly. An emerging trend today is telemedicine centers where tens of physicians behind cubicles offer remote healthcare services. This is especially helpful for people residing in rural parts of the United States where getting adequate medical help on time can be a real challenge.
Not All Emergencies can be Handled Online
Of course, there are going to be situations where personal medical attention becomes imperative, and if the situation is serious, it can demand air ambulance services. What if the patient is critical and the paramedic onboard needs expert medical advice? It is in situations like these that telemedicine can help air ambulance services. With professionals practicing a wide range of specialties, it becomes easy to get the right help at the right time for air ambulance companies.
A Tie up is Necessary
Today, there exist several telemedicine businesses that hire tens of doctors. However, there is a gap and that is collaboration between telemedicine industry and air ambulance services. Such a move will enhance patient care while cutting costs as air ambulance companies can do away with having physicians at the site all the time. It can be a pay-per-service model. Moreover, the medical flight service would have instant access to an array of medical specialties.
In light of the recent developments where medical flights around the world were disrupted due to illegally flying drones, there are a few questions that beg to be asked: “Is flying drones legal in the United States?”, “If so, what are the rules and legislations that govern flying of drones?”. Once you are aware of facts such as these, it helps flying them within the legal bounds making it easier for medical flights to ply. It must be noted in this context that flying drones is perfectly legal in the United States, subject to certain restrictions, so much so that even foreigners can bring them into the country and fly them. The Federal Aviation Authority as well as National Aviation Authority allow them.
Rules that Govern Drones in the United States
Rules for flying drones recreationally:
- The reason for flying must only be recreational and there must be no business angle to it.
- Hobbyists must visit https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/ and register the drone with Federal Aviation Authority
- The drones must never escape your line of vision as you fly them
- Only those drones which are under 55 lbs are permitted
- One must never be close to any aircraft
- Only flying in Class G airspace is allowed
- It is strictly prohibited to fly close to emergency response vehicles such as medical flights
Rules for flying drones commercially:
- The operator must hold a FAA-issued Remote Pilot Certification
- The drones must be registered with FAA just like recreational ones
- It must weight under 55 lbs
- The flight must not cross the speed of 100 miles per hour
- The drone must always remain below 400 feet so that they do not disturb medical flights and other aircrafts
- Any manned aerial vehicle must be given the right to way
- Flying directly over people is prohibited
- Flying a drone from a vehicle is only allowed in thinly populated regions
If these simple rules are taken care of, drone flying becomes a safe activity.
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.
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.