Surprise billing or balance billing is not just a problem specific to the air ambulance industry. The healthcare landscape itself is riddled with it. We have seen far too often that people who opt for a medical flight service receive huge bills that are not covered by the insurance network.
As a result, they end up liable to pay the surprise bill to the air ambulance service provider. While we often see that the money is waved off or a huge discount is offered, it is still an inconvenience and often a point of friction between the consumers and the medical flight company.
Is the Air Ambulance Industry Doing Enough?
Doubts are often raised whether the air ambulance industry is doing enough to keep the costs in check. While it is undeniable that there are some bad actors, the industry experts reveal that going in-network is not an option. The reason is the unfair reimbursement rates they say.
At the current time, the cost projections by the air ambulance industry and what the insurance companies are willing to reimburse are poles apart. Of course, there are some initiatives like memberships that medical flight companies offer, but not many are able to get the full benefits of such initiatives as consumers do not feel that necessity to pay extra, in addition to their insurance premiums.
What Can the Air Ambulance Industry Do Further?
It all comes down to negotiations. It is imperative that the air ambulance industry has a healthy discussion with the insurance companies to arrive at a fair reimbursement rates. The industry must be flexible enough to ultimately join the insurance networks.
Moreover, there is a necessity to present their points of view to the government so that there is a clear understanding of the roadblocks. The ultimate aim must be to unburden the common man.
Cost saving seems to be the concern of the air ambulance industry in recent times. While there are several resources like the hangar and quality maintenance that cannot be contained, there are certain aspects that technology can help with. Fuel efficiency and route mapping are among those. In fact, the two are closely connected to each other, especially when it comes to long-distance air ambulance evacuation. Let’s dive into the factors that affect the two and how technology can help the air ambulance industry in this regard.
Air Ambulance Industry and Fuel Efficiency
Contingency fuel itself can be a source of fuel wastage for the air ambulance industry. Wondering how? It’s a no brainer – lesser weight translates to lesser fuel. Contingency fuel is usually carried to meet any unforeseen circumstance that can compel medical flight to be on air for a longer period of time.
If there was a mechanism where any adverse conditions can be predicted beforehand, the need for contingency fuel can be negated completely or at least reduced to a huge extent. The approach would help greatly.
Another aspect is flight route. Often, air ambulances are compelled to change their flight path or flight at varying altitudes due to changing weather conditions. Actions like these accelerate the fuel burn pace. If this uncertainty can be taken away, route planning becomes more efficient where the medical flight need not be on air for longer times than necessary. Needless to say, this increases the fuel efficiency and as a consequence, cuts associated costs.
How Technology Helps
Satellite connectivity in real time can help to a huge extent to plan the routes, but this is nothing new to the air ambulance industry but connect analytical algorithms to weather data and you have something new. The combination brings to the table the ability to predict weather and plan routes even better.
The United States is a country that takes pride in its capitalistic foundations and private equity is a big part of it. Making America great are the enterprising individuals who have found new business avenues and turned their fortunes. In this context, one questions whether the same outlook must be adopted towards the air ambulance industry. Today, the industry is mostly run by firms that leverage private equity to keep floating. However, that comes as no surprise. The medical flight industry is one that sees high demand. It is natural that businessmen want to invest in it.
Air Ambulance Industry and Rising Costs
While the country has not seen high inflation, air ambulance industry has witnessed a steep rise in its costs – thanks to the ever-evolving safety measures and cost a good deal. In addition, there is the need to keep the staff well trained to tackle new equipments. On top of all that, maintaining high standards is not enough, accreditations that stand as evidence to the quality is essential, which again is a cost. Factors such as these are pushing the prices of medical flight services quite high today, to the extent that – without insurance coverage – they are almost impossible to afford.
Prevalence of Too Many Players in the Air Ambulance Industry
The air ambulance industry today witnesses several new entrants. The existing ones too are expanding at a tremendous pace. All this could be leading to an oversupply. However, oversupply is a two-edged sword. It increases the cost that ‘idle time’ attracts. In turn, this pushes the cost of each unit (read cost of each flight) higher as each unit now has to cover higher costs. This could be compelling the air ambulance industry to charge its customers high prices, something that the insurance industry has not been willing to foot lately.
The expectation is that the oversupply balances itself out eventually as the unprofitable ventures close down, and ultimately, a perfect market condition prevails.
The air ambulance industry has often cited the Airline Deregulation Act whenever questions have been raised against its billing practices. It is obvious that most people are curious about this act that precludes the states from interfering in the matters of the medical flight industry.
The law was originally passed in the year 1978 with the intent of keeping the prices of commercial flights low and to promote a healthy capitalistic competition. Prior to that, the commercial airline industry was seeing a lot of monopolistic moves and the prices were quite high. The Act was quite successful and the primary reason why we see highly competitive prices in the commercial airline market even today.
How did it Affect Air Ambulance Industry?
The credit goes to the air ambulance industry that has successfully argued they too are in the business of commercial flights and, therefore, the states cannot interfere in the matters of their pricing. However, like all industries, there are bad players in the air ambulance industry too. They have leveraged this act to charge incredibly high amounts to the customers. The issue has now catapulted to the extent that it has caught national attention. Some experts believe that strong lobbying of the industry is even influencing federal decision makers.
The Argument against the Air Ambulance Industry
Many believe that air ambulance industry must not be treated as commercial airlines. Instead, medical flights must be treated as public health utilities. Part of the argument is also that the congress – while formulating the act – would not have imagined that the air ambulance industry would interpret it the way it has been at this point. Also, the main intent was to keep the prices competitive and not soaring as is the case today. The air ambulance industry too, on the other hand, has a valid point. It points fingers at the insurance industry, which is known to deny out-of-network coverage.
The huge air ambulance bills are a matter of concern no doubt for citizens of the United States. We present a few options through which this burden can be contained.
Community Partnership with Air Ambulance Companies
It was recently seen that Gulf Shores residents now have access to free air ambulance services. Thanks to the partnership between the county and a large medical flight service provider, they will not have to pay any balance bills going forward. It is an idea that is worth emulation for the rest of the country.
Individual Memberships for Air Ambulance Services
Almost all big air ambulance companies offer membership plans that insulate their customers from balance bills. However, not many people avail this as it is an addition to their medical insurance cost. More importantly, there are not many medical flight provider groups that come together and offer comprehensive coverage.
What can Air Ambulance Companies Do?
There is a part that air ambulance companies too can play. For instance, REVA which is an international air ambulance company recently has increased its affiliations with private insurance companies. This will, in turn, rid the users of the worry of air ambulance costs. Even other providers now are veering this way, and as the web of coverage increases, the end users will benefit hugely.
Federal Intervention is an Option
The federal government has the authority to regulate the air ambulance industry. However, there is stiff opposition to any such move as it lays a huge financial pressure on the industry. It is the move that most state governments like Wyoming are pushing for, but so far, the move has borne no fruits. It is also unlikely that this route is going to be effective in the future.
Any move that brings insurance providers as well as air ambulance industry together is bound to be a success. Unfortunately, however, this is not happening at the present.
Blockchain has been largely associated with cryptocurrencies but what a sizeable number of people do not know is that it has several applications, especially when it comes to security of data and operations. The air ambulance industry can benefit hugely from this technology. It is taking the world by a storm cutting across sectors today.
Cross border transactions, data security, and international regulatory compliance are just some of the areas that blockchain technology can prove of value. In a business world where digital transformation is making big waves, the air ambulance industry cannot afford to remain isolated today. It must actively look towards adopting this technology.
Blockchain makes Cross-Border Air Ambulance Transactions Seamless
Transactions usually take place through a centralized ledger. In other words, the monitoring of financial transactions is done from one central point. The nature of air ambulance business is contrary to this. It is dispersed and depending on one central point is often a hindrance.
Blockchain transforms this process through a decentralized ledger where an immutable record of every change made in the system is maintained. It is unchangeable and transparent. Every time even a small change is made to the ledger, it is immediately recorded. This gives a clear picture of who is responsible for what.
Data Security Made Easy
The inability to make any changes without recording who did it and not being able to change this ‘log’ later is blockchain technology’s biggest strength. Any sensitive data pertaining to business or patients simply cannot be stolen without being noticed. This feature acts as a deterrent to both internal and external parties. Unscrupulous elements would simply not attempt to steal or modify data for their advantage owing to the risk of being recognized.
Features like these and more make blockchain technology one that must be adopted by the air ambulance industry today.
Recently a woman aboard a cruise ship called Norwegian Escape fell seriously ill. It went on to the extent that an air ambulance had to be called out. Lucky for her, the coast guard was reachable and quickly responded to the emergency by evacuating her. However, not all are as fortunate as this woman to find help when it is needed most while cruising through a fun vacation in high seas.
Often, while in international waters, with different national borders in place, the logistical problem can turn out to be a nightmare. The cost too can be quite high as evacuation is rather tough and involves huge distances. Insurance coverage is therefore of paramount importance.
Ask About Air Ambulance Coverage Beforehand
Not all travel insurance policies will cover air ambulance evacuation and you might have to shell out a huge amount for this purpose. There have been instances where people have even turned to crowd funding to pay air ambulance bills. The wisest thing, therefore, is to opt for a travel insurance that has comprehensive medical flight evacuation coverage. Moreover, you would not want to be treated in a foreign country if the treatment duration is long. Getting back to your home country among your loved ones would be among your top priorities.
Your Options without an Air Ambulance Coverage
If you have deep pockets, of course, there is absolutely nothing to worry but if you do not, it can be a problem. Minor ailments like broken bones, fever, and food poisoning is cared for onboard the cruise as each one hosts medical professionals. However, if the health condition is severe, the ship simply has to wait for the nearest port and admit you there. It would then leave with the remaining passengers once you are assured appropriate medical care. Sounds a little scary? That’s precisely the reason you need comprehensive air ambulance coverage.
Air ambulance evacuations can throw situations at crew members that they are not always prepared for. It is simply the nature of the job. It is impossible to imagine all kinds of situations one might encounter. It is therefore necessary to have a coordination mechanism in place where help can be sought with minimum wastage of time. The coordination could be between ground ambulances, treating or receiving facilities and even cross-nation institutions. At times, it becomes necessary to coordinate between legal teams when the evacuation involves getting a patient from overseas locations. It is vital that one chooses an air ambulance company that is well experienced, in the interest of fluidity in evacuation.
International Air Ambulance Repatriations are Especially Hard
Rules and legislations differ from country to country. You never know what bureaucratic red tape is flung at the crew without forewarning. In cases like these, it is vital that the air ambulance company has a lawyer handy. You would need someone who is well versed in local laws as well as international ones. Failure to procure help in time can lead to legal troubles and unnecessary delay which can prove to be detrimental t the health of the patient.
Coordination with Ground and Hospital Crews
The ground crew does not always belong to the same organization as the air ambulance. Also, the crew usually has to deal with a different ground ambulance organization with each evacuation. Many times, it is their first time dealing with a ground ambulance crew and their organizational rules might be different. The medical fight crew needs to understand their functioning well in advance for smooth transition.
The same goes with the hospital teams too. It is therefore advisable to establish common grounds in advance. It is because of situations like these that most well-organized medical flight companies employ a separate team to take care of these eventualities.
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.
Connected vehicles are making big waves these days, especially cars. Medical flight services can be enhanced by leveraging this technology. Wondering how? Read on. Connected vehicles are based on the fact that data can be transmitted from one vehicle to a dashboard where the relayed electrical impulses can be translated into a language that is intelligible to human beings. The purpose is to take appropriate action based on the insights received. This communication is enabled through a combination of satellite connectivity, mobile phone towers, SIM cards, and sensors. Let’s take a look at the ecosystem of these tiny devices before we get into how they facilitate quick medical flight response.
Understanding Connected Devices
The sensor fitted in the vehicle, for instance a car, takes into account factors such as the geographic location of the vehicle, the speed, the extent of impact (in case of accidents), occupant health such as vital signs (through connected wearable devices),as well as the vibration, temperature, and sound of the vehicle. It constantly monitors and analyses these parameters. If one of them is off beyond a certain limit that is considered unsafe, it sets off an alert by leveraging mobile connectivity and satellites to a predefined location – for instance the nearest emergency response team.
How Connected Vehicles Help Better Medical Flight Response
For one, the call for help is immediate. Second, the call for help is accompanied by a wealth of data pertaining to the distance and exact location of the accident along with the occupants’ health-related data. This can be of immense help to the medical flight that is responding to the emergency. It can get onboard appropriate healthcare equipment as well as experts. Since the location is precise, reaching it becomes that much easier. It also helps them prepare the receiving facility well in advance. The result is invariably a better chance of survival.