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Air Ambulance Rides Go Sky High


Posted on Jan 09, 2014

An article in the Roanoke Times, highlights difficulties that we often see when our clients are taken by helicopter from the scene of an accident. The article, by Dan Casey, is entitled "Helicopters take Medical Bills into Stratosphere." In the article, Casey explains that Carilion, a Roanoke based health organization, switched from Air Methods to Med Trans in 2011 on the basis that many of the patients that were in need of air ambulance transportation were not having their needs met. According to one Carilion spokesperson that Mr. Casey spoke with, around 300 patients were not able to receive the care they needed because both of the helicopters that were formerly under contract were unavailable when needed. 

The new company provides 3 air ambulances compared to the previous 2 as well as taking on much more financial risk and the responsibility of billing. This was a major change from the previous contract through Air Methods that allowed for 2 helicopters and the billing and the majority of the financial risk was put on Carilion. However, the new contract does leave something to be desired, a service agreement with any Virginia insurance company. Two years after the agreement has been signed, Med Trans has yet to reach an agreement with these insurance companies, including Anthem. This is quite a frustrating circumstance and a disappointment for Carilion according to the spokesperson Mr. Casey interviewed. 

Not only has Med Trans created a disappointment with the health care organization but it has also created frustration with the patients using the service. Without an insurance agreement, the patients using the service are paying for the service out of pocket. The little that some insurance companies are able to provide for their customers is not enough to pay the entire bill. This often leaves patients with bills upward of $20,000. According to Casey's article, 80-90 patients are flown every month to Roanoke Memorial Hospital (1 of 8 non-profit hospitals owned and operated by Carilion), all with shocking bills.

Although the cost of the air ambulance ride is expensive, there is one more thing that is leading to frustration among patients, a choice. Many of the air ambulance services are being done without full knowledgeable consent of the patients. Often the hospitals are calling these air ambulance services into action without first explaining why the service may be more beneficial than a standard ambulance or the cost they will incur. 

Some patients are recognizing that had the facts been explained to them prior to their use of the air ambulance that they would have gone a different route.

Many of our clients have been flown from serious accidents and they certainly save lives in time critical injuries. The problem we often see is that people hurt in significant car accidents are sometimes sent by helicopter even when the injuries are not life threatening. In many instances the injured party's health insurance covers much of the bill but the rest is left to the patient. This is different than a regular medical bill where after insurance payments and co-pays the balance is "written off." While the defendant's insurance company may ultimately be responsible, many drivers only have minimum Virginia limits of $25,000. With the helicopter ride and ER visits regularly in excess of $40,000 it is easy to see that the injured party is sometimes stuck with the bill. 

While you can never prevent the need to be airlifted from an accident scene, you can try to make sure you are covered if it happens to you. First you should research your insurance policy and check to see what provisions it has for air ambulance transportation. If possible after an accident, provide as much information to dispatchers as possible so they can assess how to best transfer you for medical treatment. Lastly, make sure you have high policy limits on your automobile insurance policy which will provide coverage through under-insured motorist coverage. 

There is no doubt that many lives are saved by the use of helicopters quickly transporting people to trauma centers and people should not put themselves at risk by trying to determine how they should be transferred from the scene of an accident. The primary concern should be getting critical treatment quickly.

If you have been injured in an accident in Charlottesville or the surrounding area, contact The Warren Firm at 434-688-0899 for more information on the best way to handle your personal injury case.