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.
It is widely believed that the new air ambulance regulation that is aimed at putting curbs to surprising billing practices will come into effect at the beginning of the next year. What it holds for the common man is a mystery to much of the country at this point in time. Most people believe that it will put an end to the unexcepted huge medical and air ambulance bills. While this is true to a very large extent, it is not the entire story. There is more to it. We try and highlight those points that one must know fully.
Air Ambulance Billing Can Be an Individual Choice
You will always be encouraged to take an in-network air ambulance service. The cost will be a concern only for the insurance and medical flight service providers. But what if you want an air ambulance service that is out of your network? Upon giving written consent, you can opt for any medical service that you choose. However, the insurance company may not cover the full amount and you may have to pay the service provider on your own.
The Coverage May Depend on Your Insurance Plan
Co-payments will remain as previously. The only difference is that the co-pay amount will not change based on the network. The regulation is applicable only when the service is provided by a non-participating service provider in emergency situations. This part of the regulation will come in handy in instances where the patient is not the decision-maker. For instance, the call to avail of an air ambulance service may be taken by the treating medical professional during an emergency. The patient might not even be able to give consent. The clearance of the resultant bill does not come under the responsibility of the patient anymore.
The air ambulance industry in the United Kingdom and the United States are quite evolved and highly regulated. They are considered an integral part of the overall emergency response infrastructure and healthcare in general. The air ambulance industry has proved its worthiness during the COVID spikes in both countries, especially in the United States. The air ambulance industry has done a great job connecting the rural United States to appropriate healthcare. However, the industry itself has not remained unaffected by the COVID situation. The increased safety and sanitization protocols have brought about an increase in costs and a dip in revenue but that is not all. Let’s look at the various aspects that have been affected by COVID.
The Air Ambulance Industry Adopted an Evolving Response
There was a time where some of the players in the air ambulance industry would have their personnel shower right after a rescue. However, times have changed since then. Today, the world knows a lot about the COVID-19 infection. The protocols have evolved accordingly. That being said, it must be noted that the virus is still evolving, which means the protocols continue to change. The air ambulance industry has been quick to adapt to such changes.
The Changes have Been for the Better
From PPEs to sanitization protocols, the air ambulance industry has made several changes since the start of the pandemic. Certain things like strict hand hygiene and masks remain. One major factor that the industry had quickly moved to tackle was the mental stress and anxiety that the pandemic brought about. The world over, it was recognized quickly and several companies in the air ambulance industry set up special cells to take care of this aspect. Certain restrictions remain. For instance, group training. However, this too will change as the world is being vaccinated rapidly today.
Air ambulance transport can be an expensive affair, especially when the patient needs to be flown from one country to another. However, it must be noted that air ambulance transport is not always a necessity. When patients are unable to tolerate a normal flight that demands hours of maintaining a sitting position, stretchers become a cost-effective alternative to booking a full air ambulance flight. Most commercial airliners make way for such a facility. The effort involved is not much, but it does take quite a bit of coordination, demanding knowledge and planning pertaining to medical stretchers. Let’s take a brief look.
Stretchers are Almost as Effective as Air Ambulance Transport
Essentially, when you contact an air ambulance transport company, their team would get in touch with a commercial airliner and make provisions to remove a few seats. In the place of those seats, a medical stretcher is then fitted. This allows the patient to travel lying down. It also makes way for treatments such as intravenous fluid transfusion and constant monitoring of the patient. It is normal for medical staff to travel along with the patient. The medical transport company also arranges the seamless transfer from the hospital to the airport and from the airport to the destination upon landing.
There are Limitations
A critically or severely ill patient cannot be transported via stretchers on commercial flights. Air ambulance transport becomes the only solution in such cases. A medical flight can create all those facilities that are typical of an ICU but the same cannot be arranged in a commercial flight. Also, those patients who are at high risk for contracting infections like COVID and those who are suffering from a highly infectious disease cannot be transported via commercial flights. Again, such patients must rely on air ambulance transport.
Medical flight services demand that the organization providing it coordinates with several agencies to bring the patient a seamless experience. This includes coordinating with ground staff, last-mile transportation to the hospital, contacting the receiving hospital, coordinating with local authorities, the list goes on. Amid all this, there is always the possibility of a data leak. Sensitive health data pertaining to the patient may fall into the hands of undesirable sources and lead to legal complications. Of course, the biggest concern for the medical flight services would be to remain in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA. The act guides how and when data can be shared and patient consent requirements.
Application Programming Interface Can Help Medical Flight Services
Data transfer through an application programming interface, popularly known as API is ideal for medical flight services. Here the data transfer takes place between two computer systems without any manual intervention. Moreover, the data transfer takes place in an encrypted format, which makes data leaks impossible. It is a sure-shot way to ensure that a company that is involved in offering air ambulance services is shielded from the possible negative implications as a consequence of not following HIPAA rules inadvertently.
Training the Staff is Also Important
Building strong technology is important no doubt but that does not mean that the human element is ignored. Air ambulance services employ several people. These people may come in contact with patient data in one way or the other. For instance, the patient medical history in a document form is a necessity for in-flight care of the patient. It is, therefore, imperative that the staff is well aware of what constitutes sensitive data and how to handle it. Even a casual conversation about the patient with the wrong person can lead to legal hassles for the organization that offers medical flight services.