Air Methods released the following statement in response to the ABC News report:
We appreciate ABC News in its willingness to address the issue of cost in its report of the emergency air medical transportation industry. While the topic is an important one, critical context was left out of the report about our financial investment and challenges that persist in the healthcare industry.
Each year, nearly half a million critically ill or seriously ill patients rely on emergency air medicine for lifesaving care. As an industry, we provide access to more than 82 million people – one in four Americans – who otherwise would not have been able to reach a trauma center within an hour if not flown by helicopter. When transported, these patients are in such critical condition, we have to continue the care in the air. We’re in essence a flying emergency room and we only respond when a physician or a first responder calls us. When every minute counts, emergency air medical transport and treatment is often not just the best choice for saving a life, it’s the only choice.
Like a fire station, our fleet and highly trained clinicians are always ready to deploy every moment of every day, whether there is an emergency or not. Yet, real-time deployment readiness requires enormous financial resources and ongoing investment. There is a very real cost that goes into providing access to lifesaving services twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
- We have more than 300 air medical bases and each base costs, on average, $3 million to operate and maintain each year.
- The multi-million dollar aircraft, employing highly trained pilots, mechanics, flight nurses, flight paramedics and AirCom specialists, maintaining crew quarters, state-of-the-art equipment and administrative costs – these are all fixed costs, meaning we incur these costs just by staying ready at all times, whether we fly or not.
Aircraft, equipment, highly specialized staff—both clinical and aviation—and ongoing training are only part of the equation.
When we are asked to save a life, we deploy without regard to a patient’s ability to pay. That means we sometimes don’t receive payment for our services. And when we do, the payments we receive for Medicare or Medicaid patients don’t come close to covering the actual cost we incur for providing our service. This means we are essentially losing money on seven out of 10 transports due to extremely low government payments.
At the heart of the issue is that health insurance isn’t doing what health insurance is supposed to do— protect its members. The core purpose of health insurance is to protect individuals from catastrophic events, yet private health plans continue to shrink their coverage, shifting toward high deductible, high out-of-pocket models and reducing coverage for their members. They don’t offer patients adequate protection—financially or medically. No one wins in this scenario, except the insurance companies who choose to abandon their members by paying a minimal amount and walking away, leaving the hospital, Air Methods, and most importantly, their member and our patients to deal with the aftermath of their poor business practice. In an ideal world, everyone pays their fair share, and if they did, the charge per transport would reduce significantly. In today’s reality, many insurance companies are doing the bare minimum and expecting the rest of us, especially their members, to shoulder the burden.
Some have asked why we don’t include pricing on our release forms and the truth is because the number one focus of family and loved ones in these traumatic situations is on making clinical decisions so their loved ones survive. That’s their number one focus – and it’s our number one focus too.
The fact of the matter is our fractured healthcare system creates enormous barriers and makes lifesaving care more difficult and costly to deliver. Every day, we are forced to operate within the system that exists and do our best to protect the people we serve. We face regulatory burdens not only from the FAA, but also from a variety of local and federal healthcare oversight bodies. We seek every efficiency and innovation to keep our costs down, but the nature of our service—and the complexities of the healthcare industry—dictate costs that are beyond our control. Our charges are similar to other for-profit and non-profit air medical providers.
We don’t like when our patients are put in these situations and we do everything we can to help them. We understand that every patient's individual and financial circumstances are unique, and our team is dedicated to partnering with every one of them as they navigate through the post-flight and critical care process. We have a long-established charity care process in place to allow us to reduce patient financial responsibility within our legal parameters, and our Patient Financial Counselors are here to help. We believe that everyone deserves access to lifesaving care.
Visit our website to see the full transcript and video of Kim Downs, a parent to a former Air Methods patient, during her interview with ABC News.