Insurance coverage denials have long troubled patients, especially when they avail of air ambulance services based on the suggestions of treating physicians. It must be noted that any patient who is in a serious medical condition cannot deny air ambulance transport surpassing the suggestion by the treating physician. The situation has caused many instances where the cost burden is ultimately transferred to the patient when the insurance company denies coverage. This time around, it was a patient who was suggested to fly to a level 1 trauma hospital in Florida. He was on a cruise at the time, and he had suffered a myocardial infarction.
The Insurance Company Had Suggested Against Using Air Ambulance Service
Insurance companies usually suggest that patients are brought to the nearest appropriate treating facility, else the coverage is denied. However, it is the insurance company that decides the appropriateness of the treating facility. In this case, the treating physician had suggested a facility in Florida whereas the insurance company had suggested a nearby hospital. Despite what the insurance provider had said, the patient was flown to Florida. This was the reason why his insurance coverage was denied. In response to this, the patient has now sued the insurance company.
The Air Ambulance Bill Came up to USD 240,000
An air ambulance bill that runs into huge amounts, such as the one received by the patient in question, can run anyone into bankruptcy. The reason cited for denial was that the advice of the insurance provider was not heeded. The hospital expenses and the land ambulance cost were covered but not the air ambulance service.
The lawsuit was filed on the 6th of October by the patient and names the insurance company for denying the coverage. He believes that the insurance provider had wrongly tried to force him to avail of a medical facility that was not in his best interest.
Tragedy struck the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, recently snuffing the lives of four people. According to the police of the country, the incident involved the pilot trainer whose name was Khamis Saeed Al-Holy along with Lieutenant Pilot Nasser Muhammad Al-Rashidi. The two seemed to have been in control of the air medical flight at the time. Also present in the helicopter during the tragic accident were nurse Joel Qiui Sakara Minto and Dr. Shahid Farouk Gholam. It was not immediately clear what happened and how the accident occurred as no details were reported to by the police initially. The news was initially made public by the country’s leading news organization, Khaleej Times.
Fog was Probably the Reason Behind the Air Medical Flight Tragedy
Although not announced as the reason for the air medical flight, it was seen that shortly after the crash, an advisory was sent out. This advisory cautioned people about the fog situation that was limiting visibility. Motorists were informed that the speed limit had been brought down to tackle the situation. It is a well-known fact that fog can reduce visibility down to dangerous levels. However, it is not clear as to why the air medical flight had taken to air despite the fact. It was also not clear whether the vehicle was enroute to a medical emergency.
The Sheik and the Police Express Condolences
The Sheik of Abu Dhabi Lt-Gen Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan and several high-ranking government officials attended the funeral. Care was taken to maintain social distancing amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation. The Sheik, later in the day, took to the popular social media channel, Twitter, to express his grief over the incident. Expressing his condolences to the family, he wished the souls of the departed rested in eternal peace with the almighty.
It is almost as if the world has lost count of how many COVID-19 waves have hit it so far. In the United States, while some of the states have it well under control now, others do not. Some even contend that they are facing a fourth wave of the pandemic. One thing is for sure, medical flights have been at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. With the number of positive cases running into several thousand, it is obvious that a portion of these COVID-positive patients is in a serious health condition. Then there are those who are in areas that do not have enough hospital beds or adequate facilities to treat their conditions. Medical flights are the only recourse in these situations.
Medical Flights are Witnessing an Unprecedented Demand
The rural United States is highly dependent on medical flights when it comes to availing adequate treatment. With the pandemic penetrating several rural areas in the country, the demand surge has been very steep. The flight staff is under immense pressure to meet this demand. In this context, it must be noted that the staff of these medical flights must wear special personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe. This impedes their mobility and can be quite tough. The body heat that the gear retains can make the day’s work quite exhausting.
Most Companies are Offering Extra Support to their Staff
Employees of medical flights are not just facing physical exertion but also the mental stress that comes along with it. Prolonged work hours in tough conditions coupled with the fear of contracting the infection and putting their own families at risk is one of them. On their part, the organizations that run medical flights are keeping a close watch and offering support to their staff in these difficult times.
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.
Several federal agencies in the United States of America are now coming together to enforce the No Surprises Act. Thus far, the air ambulance industry has been able to charge the patients arbitrarily and the state governments have not been able to do anything about it. Now, this is all set to change with the federal authority weighing down on this issue. The main purpose of the act is to avoid any surprise billing or balance billing where the recipient of the service is liable to pay a part of the amount. The bill will come into effect next year and the hope is that people will no longer have to avoid healthcare due to the fear of high prices.
How will The Bill Affect Air Ambulance Cost?
People who come under Medicaid and Medicare are not liable to pay any out of pocket expenses. This is because the air ambulance companies are not allowed to send requests for payments to them. However, a large portion of the United States also relies on private health insurance. This is where the problem lies. With private insurances, the amount is only covered when a person uses in-network air ambulance services. Any service that is out of the network attracts a cost that is to be borne by the consumer.
The No Surprises Act Promises to Change Things
With the new No Surprises Act that is slated to come into effect in the year 2022, air ambulance companies will not be able to send requests for part or full payments to the consumers. Instead, they will have to make do with what the insurance companies disburse. If there is a dispute regarding the monetary compensation for the service, it will have to be arbitrated among the insurance providers and the air ambulance companies. The move will be a big relief for people seeking emergency air ambulance services.
The United States of America is among the countries which have the highest vaccination rates in the whole world. However, the vaccination rate is not uniform across the country. As a result, many parts of the country are now witnessing unprecedented Coronavirus positivity. Much of the surge is being attributed to the delta variant of the virus. Air ambulances are increasingly being sought to ferry patients across hospitals and cities in search of appropriate beds today. The healthcare systems are being overwhelmed by the number of people seeking hospitalizations in states like Kansas.
Air Ambulances Catering to Emergencies
There is no dearth of vaccinations in the United States, but many people have refused to get vaccinated or delayed vaccinations. Although vaccinations are not a guarantee against contracting the virus, they are known to mellow down the severity of the infection. However, it takes quite a few days for the effect of the vaccine to kick in. In the meantime, people are getting infected in huge numbers. Those who have not got even got a single dose of vaccine are now finding it hard to get ICU beds and air ambulances are taking such patients to appropriate facilities in far off places.
Air Ambulances Today are Better Equipped
The Coronavirus has dominated the world for quite some time now, and the safety and insulation protocols against the virus have evolved. However, it still necessitates wearing personal protective equipment, which can be quite limiting and physically exhausting. The personnel who take care of the COVID patients in the air ambulances must wear these too. Added to that is the heat that the ground crews of the air ambulances must bear. The hope is that people will be more open to vaccinations and the pandemic can be brought under control soon. Until such time, the crew members of air ambulances will continue to discharge their duties against all odds.
Air ambulances are helping patients to get appropriate care in a short amount of time today. The pandemic has subsided to a huge extent as several developing and developed nations have aggressively vaccinated their citizens. With this change in dynamic, people today are venturing out more and it is business as usual in most places. At the same time, the crime rate across the nations has increased significantly. The rural United States is not immune to this problem. While some of the stabbings and shootings are related to robberies, the rest are related to crimes of passion. Whatever the reason, the rural counties fall short when it comes to providing care in time.
Air Ambulances Fill the Gap
Several rural hospitals have shut down over the last decade in the rural United States. This has meant that people need to travel greater distances for good medical care. Air ambulances are bridging this need by reducing the travel time to hospitals. At times, air ambulances can cut this time into one-fourth of what it takes if one takes road transport. Research has found that taking patients to hospitals on time facilitates better treatment outcomes. The reasons range from availing of sophisticated medical equipment quicker to reducing blood loss which can often be fatal.
Stroke Victims also Need Quicker Treatment
The same goes for patients who suffer strokes. Research has found that people who suffer strokes survive and recover faster when they get the treatment within the first hour. Air ambulances can facilitate this through their quick responses and reduced travel time. Moreover, most medical flights are equipped with all the tools and expertise that are necessary to provide the initial care for such patients. Today, air ambulances even carry portable defibrillators and blood transfusion facilities. While the cost of medical flights can be steep sometimes, there is no doubt that they bring the money’s worth to the table.
An air ambulance service always comes at a premium cost. Getting your money’s worth is only possible if you know what to expect out of it. This is especially true if you have enough time to make a comparative study of your options. Of course, if it is an emergency, you will not have the time and will have to make do with the quickest available option. Here are some of the factors that you can look into.
Cost of the Air Ambulance Service
Perhaps the biggest consideration is the cost of the air ambulance service. One must not hesitate to negotiate the price beforehand and try to get the best deal. Feel free to ask for quotes from various air ambulance service companies in your area and choose the one that suits your budget.
The Facilities on Offer by the Air Ambulance Service
In the quest to get the best deal possible, you cannot ignore the service considerations. You would want to tend to the emotional needs of the patient rather than spending time on logistics like finding a hospital bed or arranging a land ambulance. Most of the good medical flight service providers will take care of things like these.
You do not want to end up utilizing the services of an out-of-network air ambulance company. The result can be an out-of-pocket expense that can run into thousands of dollars. This should be one of the first considerations.
Give Air Ambulance Service Membership a Thought
Air ambulance memberships can rid you of the worry pertaining to costs. For just about a hundred dollars a year, you can get memberships that shield you from the risk of having to pay any amount out of your pocket. The only thing to bear in mind is that these memberships are usually limited to only one air ambulance service or at the max, a few of them.
The air ambulance industry and the insurance industry will soon be coming to a point of intersection as surprise billing practices will come to an end in less than a year in the United States. There has been great public support for this move by the government. The states that were, so far, unable to regulate the air ambulance companies owing to certain federal laws are now assured that prices can be brought under control. At the outset, it seems that everything will go well in the days to come. However, it is important that people look at both sides of the coin and weigh the cons too. Let’s take a look at some of them and the impact they can have on the people.
Private Air Ambulance Companies May Pull Back
While the lawmakers have been enthusiastic in forming the bill to end surprising bills, it must be noted that their involvement in providing air ambulance services to people has been next to nil. In an attempt to appease the masses, they may be shooing away new entrants to the air ambulance market. The United States, unlike countries like the United Kingdom, depend hugely on private players to keep the air ambulances flying. In this context, it must be noted that costs are must cheaper in the United Kingdom, owing to the fact that these companies are mostly charity based. Their funding mostly comes from corporates, the government and the local communities.
The Rural United States May Suffer
An air ambulance company that runs the least number of flights is usually the most expensive. The reason being the cost of maintenance is distributed among a small customer base. This is often the case with rural areas where the population is thin and the demand for air ambulance services is low. If the prices are standardized, air ambulance companies may be discouraged to serve such regions. For the rural United States, which is already suffering from a choppy medical infrastructure, it is not good news.
Among the most important factors that count when it comes to medical flight risk assessment according to the Federal Aviation Safety Administration is having an accurate flight risk assessment tool. Such a tool enables the pilots to evaluate the flight risk well in advance and to make an informed decision whether to proceed with the medical flight rescue mission or not. An efficient tool enables the pilot and the flight team to develop a risk mitigation strategy that is effective enough. It includes everything from weather condition assessment to cabin preparation for the patient who will be onboarded. However, there are several other factors, too and often, it is an evolving situation that the risk assessment tool must factor in.
The Changing Medical Flight Risk Landscape
Pandemics, volatile political conditions, conflicts, sudden weather changes – the factors that result in increased medical flight risk are several. The tool must take into consideration all these factors. Of course, the tool must work on inputs received digitally as well as through manual human intervention. There are specialized disciplines when it comes to such assessments today. Not to forget the numerous safety organizations throughout the world. However, sometimes the safety standards of one country can conflict with another.
Medical Flights Across Borders
Crossing certain international borders is considered low risk. For instance, a medical flight company would not think twice before flying a patient between the United States and the United Kingdom. However, the considerations vary vastly when, for instance, when it is between a country like Sudan and the United States. Of course, not all medical flight companies undertake missions in countries that are considered volatile. Having said that there are private medical flight companies today that specialize in undertaking missions from high-conflict nations. It all boils down to the adequacy and the efficiency of the risk models, tools and human expertise that they employ.